Our Relationship to Ourselves: Being Humble about our Spiritual Gifts Part 1 – Romans 12:3-5
Pastor Mark Hardy October 6, 2013
Shortly after he took over the presidency of Tusk-e-gee Institute in Alabama, Booker T. Washington, the renowned African-American leader, educator, orator, and advisor to presidents, was walking in an exclusive section of town when he was stopped by a wealthy white woman. Not knowing the famous Mr. Washington by sight, she asked if he would like to earn a few dollars by chopping wood for her. Since he had no pressing business at the moment, Professor Washington smiled, rolled up his sleeves, and proceeded to do what she had requested. When he was finished, he carried the wood into the house and stacked it by the fireplace. A young girl recognized him and later revealed his identity to the lady.
The next morning the embarrassed woman went to see Mr. Washington in his office at the Institute and apologized profusely. “It’s perfectly all right, Madam,” he replied. “Occasionally I enjoy a little manual labor. Besides, it’s always a delight to do something for a friend.” She shook his hand warmly and assured him that his gracious and humble attitude had endeared him and his work to her heart. Not long afterward she showed her admiration by persuading some wealthy acquaintances to join her in donating thousands of dollars to the Tusk-e-gee Institute. This is a good example of the kind of humility that we will be looking at this morning.
Last time we began looking at the second major section of the book of Romans in chapters 12-16. We saw the two introductory verses of 12:1-2 that are of utmost importance because they set forth the fundamental obligation in every believer’s relationship to God Himself, which is total commitment to Jesus Christ. Paul now shows how if we have truly made this commitment to Christ it will be expressed in all of our relationships, as described in 12:3-15:13. The first relationship he addresses is our relationship to ourselves. Turn in your Bible to Romans 12.
In Romans 12:3-8 we see three responsibilities regarding how we as believers are to view ourselves, Christ’s church, and our spiritual gifts. This morning we will look at only the first two.
The first responsibility is this:
I. To Exhibit the proper Attitude of Humility
A. Look at v. 3: For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.
1. By connecting this new paragraph (vv. 3-8) to vv. 1-2 with the word “For” (gar), Paul is showing that the exhortations he now gives are concrete and practical examples of the renewed mind and transformed life that every believer is called to live.
2. When Paul says “through the grace given to me,” he is referring to the undeserved grace gift of his apostleship to the Gentiles, which was given to him by God (1:5; 15:15-16; 1 Cor. 3:10; 15:9-10; Gal. 2:9; Eph. 3:2, 7-8; 1 Tim. 1:12-14).
3. As an apostle of Jesus Christ, what Paul is about to say here is not merely good advice or his own personal opinion. He is speaking with God’s authority when he states the mild command, “…I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment…” (Stop there)
4. Notice that this command is addressed to “everyone among you.” This is a universal command to each and every believer in Christ’s church; no one is exempt.
B. Now the substance of the command to every believer is “…not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment” or to think soberly (KJV).
1. Paul uses the word “think” four times in the Greek as a play on words (huperphronein, phronein [twice], sophronein). And each time the term refers to the way in which a person thinks about himself or herself.
2. Notice that the substance of Paul’s command is both negative and positive. First, the negative part of the command is a prohibition against a high self-estimation.
3. The one Greek word translated “to think more highly of himself” (hyperphronein), literally means “to have high thoughts.” It refers to being prideful, conceited, haughty, and arrogant.
4. It speaks of having a high self-estimation of oneself, an exaggerated self-esteem, seeing oneself as more important than others, and condescendingly looking down on others with a sense of superiority—“I’m better than they are because….”
5. Pride is demanding and believes it “deserves better” than what it is getting. And it justifies its sinful anger and behavior when what it wants doesn’t happen.
6. Now this comes naturally to fallen, sinful man who is self-centered and self-obsessed. Selfish pride is at the core of human nature.
7. Self is the king of the universe, the master of his fate, and the captain of his soul as he puts himself on God’s throne (Rom. 8:5-8; Col. 1:21). This is why pride is at the top of the list of seven things that God hates and is an abomination to Him in Proverbs 6:16-19, which He calls “haughty eyes.” (8:13)
8. Apart from the life-saving and life-transforming gospel of Jesus Christ, the natural man’s mindset is on himself. There is absolutely no place in the Christian life for an inflated view of oneself.
9. And yet, the sin of pride is also an on-going reality in the lives of believers; and it must be dealt with. For Galatians 6:3 warns, “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”
10. This is why the Bible tells us not to compare ourselves with others (2 Cor. 10:12), for when we do we always end up seeing ourselves as either better or worse those we are comparing ourselves to.
11. Now whereas “to think more highly of oneself” is to have an exaggerated self-esteem, pride is so subtle that pride also lies behind what is known today as low self-esteem or a bad self-image. Those who have ever struggled with this in their lives know how extremely painful self-contempt and the thoughts of worthlessness can be.
12. We live in a world that says our core problem is that we need to love ourselves more! But the Word of God tells us that our core problem is not that we love ourselves too little but that we love ourselves too much.
13. Instead of being obsessed with God and living to love Him as He designed, as sinners we are obsessed with ourselves and living find the love and meaning our souls have been built for apart from God.
14. Therefore, when those we are idolatrously looking to and demanding from to give us what we believe we need let us down and hurt us, it is not safe to express our anger at them, for we may lose whatever little we are receiving from them. So in our prideful commitment to ourselves we blame ourselves for them not loving us and turn our anger and contempt on ourselves.
15. Therefore, a bad self-image not only helps people explain why they are not loved the way they long to be—“Because I’m too fat, too awkward, not smart enough, not talented enough, not pretty enough, not whatever…,” but it also gives them something they can control to work on and it gives them the hope that if they can just change then they will finally get what they believe they need.
16. Since a bad self-image provides people with an explanation of why they’re unloved, a plan to change, and the hope getting what they want, this is why simply quoting verses to them like Psalm 139:14 that they are “fearfully and wonderfully made” is like water off a ducks back. As painful as it is, they are holding onto it with a white-knuckle grip because underneath is the prideful determination to find life for their soul without turning to Jesus Christ.
17. This is why a bad self-image will never be ultimately dislodged apart from repentance and turning to Jesus Christ.
18. And there are also mild forms of this same thing in believers’ lives when they depreciate and underestimate their spiritual gifts. John Murray accurately states, “If we consider ourselves to possess gifts we do not have, then we have an inflated notion of our place and function; we sin by esteeming ourselves beyond what we are. But if we underestimate, then we are refusing to acknowledge God’s grace and we fail to exercise that which God has dispensed for our own sanctification and that of other.” (pg. 117)
19. Therefore, in thinking about ourselves we must avoid both over-estimating ourselves on the one hand and under-estimating ourselves on the other.
C. So how should we think about ourselves? Paul tells us in the second part of the command, which is positive: it is the prerequisite of a humble self-estimation. Look at again at v. 3, “…but to think so as to have sound judgment.”
1. In stark contrast to an attitude of pride is an attitude of “sound judgment.” The one Greek word translated “sound judgment” (sophronein) means “to be reasonable, sensible, sober-minded, and to think soberly” (KJV).
2. This is Paul way of telling all believers that they are responsible to have a humble self-estimation. Humility is the mother of all Christian virtue.
3. A humble heart attitude enables us to realistically think of ourselves as we really are from God’s perspective, from the truth of God’s Word. This is what a biblical self-image is all about.
4. We don’t have a high-estimation of ourselves on the one hand, pridefully thinking that we are superior to others and that we deserve better. We know that if we got what we really deserved things would be a million times worse than whatever difficulties we may be facing right now, for we would be in eternal hell forever separated from the life and presence of God.
5. A biblical self-image recognizes that in ourselves we are nothing, for whatever is good in us is not of ourselves, but of God. Paul said to the arrogant Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”
6. Nor do we hate and depreciate ourselves on the other hand. Because every born-again believer is “in Christ” we recognize that we have everything we need from the spiritual resources and gifts He has given to us.
7. Therefore, we humbly accept ourselves in Christ as God accepts us and we gratefully and faithfully use whatever God has given us for the glory of God and the blessing of others.
8. Humility is the essential prerequisite for all other virtues and enables Christ’s loving and holy character to flow in and through our lives. In Philippians 2:3-8 we read, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
9. This “sound judgment,” this sober-minded humility is how Paul tells us we “ought to think.” And only as we do, will we be able to please God and experience His sufficient grace to live as He designed.
10. For in both James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5 we are told, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (Prov. 3:34)
D. Paul then says at the end of v. 3 that we can think about ourselves with a humble self-estimation, “…as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”
1. The word “faith” (pisteos) in this context refers to the trust in God that each believer possesses for the exercise of his or her particular spiritual gift, for no gift is exercised apart from faith directed to God. And the word “measure” (metron) here refers to the “quantity or proportion of something.”
2. John Murray captures the meaning of this phrase when he says, “…‘measure of faith’ is not to be understood as if faith were a quantity that could be divided into parts and thus measured out in portions. ‘Measure of faith’ must reflect on the different respects in which faith is to be exercised in view of the diversity of functions existing in the church of Christ. The meaning is to be derived from the various expressions which follow—‘but all the members do not have the same function’ (v. 4); ‘having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us’ (v. 6), differing functions and gifts which are enumerated in verses 6-8. Each gift requires the grace necessary for its exercise and is itself the certification of this grace, for they are gifts given according to grace (v. 6). There are, therefore, distinct endowments variously distributed among the members of the Christian community and this is spoken of as dealing to each a measure of faith.” (pg. 118)
3. The Spirit of God has distributed spiritual gifts to every believer, as we will see next time in vv. 6-8), and there is a corresponding faith by which the gift is to be exercised. And as we understand that God has gifted each one of us differently in the way that is best suited to fulfill His intended role for us, we will think humbly about ourselves because we know how we fit in His body, the church.
4. This brings us to the second responsibility, which is this:
II. To Perceive properly the Body of Christ
A. Look at vv. 4-5: 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.
1. By the word “For” (gar) Paul is giving further explanation on how we as believers can continue to think humbly about ourselves. We do so by perceiving properly the body of Christ.
2. To help us understand this, Paul uses the metaphor of the human body as a comparison to the body of Christ, the church. Although Paul doesn’t specifically use the phrase “body of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:16; 12:12, 27; Eph. 4:12) or “His body” (Eph. 5:30) in this passage, it is clear that this is what he is referring to.
3. Notice that Paul makes this comparison by structuring vv. 4-5 in this way: “just as. . . so.” Paul first describes the human body in v. 4 saying, “…we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function.”
4. In our “one (physical) body” we all have “many members”—eyes, ears, mouth, teeth, tongue, arms, hands, legs, feet, various internal organs, etc.. And these many members “…do not have the same function.”
5. Every member, when functioning properly, contributes to the whole by doing what it alone can do.
B. Likewise, “just as” the human body has many members with their own particular function, “so” the same is true in Christ’s body, the church. Look again at v. 5, “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”
1. The “we” here refers to all born-again believers who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ and received Him as their personal Savior and Lord. Now in these two verses Paul underscores three characteristics of Christ’s church: First, is the unity of the body. Paul says, “we. . . .are one body in Christ.”
• “One body” refers to the universal church of Christ, which is made up of every single born-again believer (1 Cor. 10:17; 12:27). Notice that we are all “in Christ,” in that, we all share the same divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4), we are indwelt by the same Spirit, and we have the same spiritual life from Christ (Jn. 15:5; Col. 3:3) because we have all been united with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.
• Now it is important to understand that we don’t make ourselves “one body,” we are already one body by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:1-6). That is our position “in Christ;” our responsibility is simply to act as we already are and according to Ephesians 4:3, to be “…diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
2. Second, the diversity of its members. Paul says in vv. 4-5, “…just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many…”
• Just as the human body could not function properly unless it was characterized by diversity, so it is with the body of Christ. God intended that there be diversity in our unity (1 Cor. 12:12).
• Unity is not uniformity whereby we all look alike, act alike, and serve alike with the same spiritual gifts. No way! It is diversity working in harmonious unity that enables Christ’s body to be and to do what He directs it to be and to do. Yes, we all are unique individuals that have different gifts and functions in the church, but no one is better than another.
• Not only is the ground level at the foot of the cross, in that we are all equal, but also every member of Christ’s body is absolutely necessary (1 Cor. 12:21-25). There are no unnecessary members!
• F.F. Bruce said it well, “Diversity, not uniformity, is the mark of God’s handiwork. It is so in nature; it is so in grace, too, and nowhere more so than in the Christian community. Here are many men and women with the most diverse kinds of parentage, environment, temperament, and capacity. Not only so, but since they became Christians they have been endowed by God with a great variety of spiritual gifts as well. Yet because and by means of that diversity, all can co-operate for the good of the whole.” (pg. 225)
3. Third, the interdependence of all believers. Notice at the end of v. 5 where Paul says, “…and individually members one of another.”
• As a relational God, He has created us not only for fellowship with Himself, but also for fellowship with others. Whereas our unity does not mean the loss of our individuality, God has so intended that His body, the church would properly function only as we all are interdependent upon one another.
• This means that there is no room in the body of Christ for independent hot dogs or lone rangers. As one body of believers who are interdependent upon one another, we belong to each other.
• This is why we are told in 1 Corinthians 12:26, “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”
• We are also interdependent upon one another for our individual and corporate spiritual growth. Ephesians 4:16 makes this very clear saying, “From whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
• Beloved, each and every one of us as believers profits from what every other believer contributes to the whole. This is what true “body life” is all about!
• And since the interdependence of all believers is so crucial to the healthy functioning of Christ’s church, this is why we all must maintain a humble attitude. For only a humble heart will love God and others properly and obey the Lord in serving others in the church as He designed.
I close with a quote from Andrew Murray who describes what humility means to him. He says, “Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me (i.e. in the sense that it has no power to destroy his soul). It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble. The humble person is not one who thinks meanly of himself, he simply does not think of himself at all.”
God commands that we have a humble heart. It is the first concrete and practical example of our total commitment to Him. This is because when He is truly first and foremost in our lives, the Supreme Treasure of our hearts, then we see Him our Master and ourselves as His slave. Because we are bought with the price of His precious blood and belong to Him, it is only His will that we are committed to obey, regardless of the cost. May this be our humble self-estimation!