I appeal to you therefore, brothers,by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members,and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads,with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
If you are one of the hostages sitting in an orange suit somewhere in Iraq with five hooded and armed men before you, four with guns and one with a knife, you may, as a last resort say, “Mercy, mercy. Please, have mercy.” At that moment you may not be saying to them: “Yes, I deserve to be beheaded, nevertheless I ask for mercy.” Instead, you may believe, rightly, that you do not deserve to be beheaded by these men. What you probably mean when you say, “Mercy, mercy. Please, have mercy!” is: “Though I do not believe I deserve to die in this way, nevertheless, I do not appeal to justice. I do not appeal for what I deserve. I appeal for mercy.” Justice would set you free, but your captors do not believe that. So you are not appealing to that. You are trying another appeal: Mercy.
How much more, then, when you stand before a judge who is just and good, and who has found you guilty of a serious crime—and you really are guilty—will you appeal for mercy. You will say, “I know I am guilty. I committed the crime. I have no excuse. So I do not ask for justice. Justice would condemn me, and rightly. I simply ask, can the court have mercy in my case?”
And if it comes—if, against all expectation, the judge gives you mercy instead of justice, and lets you go free—you weep with joy as you walk out into the sunshine and sweet breezes of freedom.
That’s the kind of people Paul is talking to as he begins Romans 12. When he says in verse 1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God . . .” he means all that he has said in Romans 1-11 is a description of the mercies of God. That’s the basis of the new life God calls you now to live. These mercies satisfied God’s justice because he poured out his wrath in the death his Son Jesus “so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
Now, he says in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore . . . no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” So as those who have trusted Christ for the removal of God’s wrath and for the forgiveness of sin, and for the declaration that we, the ungodly, are righteous, Paul now says to us in Romans 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God . . .”
Everything in this chapter flows from the fountain of God’s mercy through the heart that is broken because of its sin, and that treasures God’s mercy more than anything in the world. When Paul says, “I appeal to you by the mercies of God . . .” he means: If you have tasted this mercy and treasure it as you ought, you will live like this.
So don’t treat this chapter as rules for earning God’s favor. Treat it as the fruit of enjoying God’s mercy. God gives his favor freely. You can’t earn it. You can only reject or treasure it. If you treasure it, you will not be conformed to this world but transformed in the renewal of your mind. All of life will change. That’s the point of verse 2. Your mercy-dependent, mercy-loving, mercy-treasuring mind will now be able to discern and embrace what is the will of God.
Humility and Lowliness of Mind Mark the Lover of Mercy
And the first thing Paul says about this mercy-dependent, mercy-treasuring mind is that it doesn’t think too highly of itself. Verse 3: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think . . .” Lowliness and humility are the first mark of those who have stood before the judgment seat of God, deserving hell, and heard the words, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. You may go free. And before you go, know this: I have adopted you into my everlasting family. And now my Son will go with you all of your life to help you live as a mercy-treasuring heir of all I am and all I possess as God.”
Humility and lowliness of mind mark the lover of mercy. And the opposite of thinking too highly of ourselves in verse 3 is this: “. . . to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” And he means faith in Christ.
In other words, the true measure of yourself is your measure of Christ. Think of yourself according to the measure of your faith, Paul says. Your self accords with your faith. Self is defined by its faith in Christ. And faith is a looking away from the self to Christ and his mercy. If Christ is more to you, you are more. If Christ is less to you, you are less. Your measure rises and your measure falls with your measure of him. Your valuing him is the value that you have.
This is the meaning of Christian humility. It is a kind of self-forgetfulness produced by treasuring Christ. The Christian alternative to thinking too highly of ourselves is mainly to think highly of Christ. Thinking about ourselves will produce pride or despair. And both are forms of unbelief. The gospel alternative to pride is not mere self-condemnation, but Christ-exaltation. The Christian triumph over pride is faith in Christ. Treasuring Christ—especially the mercy of Christ—above all the praise of men and above all the pleasures of earth is the triumph of Christian humility.
The Spiritual Gifts as Seen Through the Lens of Christ-Treasuring Humility
Now today we have arrived at verses 7-8. This is Paul’s list of spiritual gifts. We already dealt with the gift of prophecy (in verse 6), and now there are six more. The reason I have spent so much time emphasizing mercy-loving, Christ-treasuring humility is because this gives the focus of verses 7 and 8. I don’t think verse 7 and 8 will communicate what Paul wants to communicate unless we see them through the lens of Christ-treasuring humility.
Here’s what I mean. There is no main verb in the sentence that runs from verse 6 through 8. All the translations have to supply one. So, for example, the ESV says,
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them [these words “let us use them” are supplied by the translator]: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads,with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
The problem with simply supplying “let us use them” is that it doesn’t mean much in verse 7: “If service [let us use it] in our serving; the one who teaches [let him use it] in his teaching; the one who exhorts [let him use it] in his exhortation.” That seems pointless. Why say, “Use your serving gift in serving, and use your teaching gift in teaching, and use your exhorting gift in exhorting”? Where else would you use them?
So what I am suggesting is that Paul is not simply saying “use them,” but use them “humbly”. Use them as the expression of mercy-dependent faith. Use them as the overflow of treasuring Christ. The reason I suggest this is that (1) simply saying “serve in your serving” seems empty, and because (2) the whole thrust of the chapter so far is the mercy-dependent humility and lowliness of the renewed mind in Christ.
So my paraphrase of verses 6-8 would be:
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them humbly, if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, let us use it with mercy-dependent humility in our serving; the one who teaches, let him use his teaching gift with mercy-dependent humility in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, let him exhort with mercy-dependent humility in his exhortation; the one who contributes, let him contribute with mercy-dependent humility and thus with generosity; the one who leads, let him lead with mercy-dependent humility and thus with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, let him show mercy with mercy-dependent humility and thus with cheerfulness.
Why Humility Is Crucial for the Spiritual Gifts
Now let’s look at just two reasons why this focus on humility is so crucial for Paul right here in this list of gifts.
1. Unity in Diversity Requires Mercy-Loving, Mercy-Dependent Humility
First, notice that all these gifts imply that someone is on the receiving end of these gifts. Look at verse 7. If someone is serving, someone is in need of service. if someone is teaching, someone knows less and is being taught. Verse 8: If someone is exhorting, someone is in need of exhortation. If someone is contributing, someone is in need of help. If someone is leading, someone is being led. If someone is showing mercy, someone is hurting and in need of mercy.
You see immediately the need for humility. Humility to give without pride; humility to receive without self-pity. God has willed that there be diversity in the body of Christ. That is plain from verse 3 where it says God assigns different measures of faith. And it is plain from verses 4-5 where it says that the church is like a human body with different members. God plans diversity in the church, even spiritual diversity. And I think the main reason is that when diverse people harmonize by the power and mercy of Christ, Christ is more exalted than if people attain unity in Christ who are all the same.
But unity in diversity is impossible without mercy-loving, mercy-dependent, Christ-treasuring humility. And the place it is needed most is in those who seem to have strength—the one who serves, the one who teaches, the one who exhorts, the one who contributes, the one who leads, the one who shows mercy. These all seem to be acting out of strength. They all are relating to others who are in need of their ministry. And that is a dangerous place to be. It can lead quickly to pride.
That is why I think Paul is not done with his emphasis on humility in verse 3 when he gets to the gifts in verses 6-8. His main point is: mercy-dependent, mercy-loving, Christ-treasuring people, saved by the mercy of God, are being renewed in their minds, and the first thing he mentions is: they don’t think more highly of themselves than they ought. And now he says: All of you who use your gifts for others, do it with deep humility, knowing that you too are dependent on mercy. That is, do it in proportion to your faith (vv. 3, 6); do it in childlike reliance on Christ.
So, Bethlehem, let us be mercy-dependent, mercy-loving, Christ-treasuring body of servants to one another. Serve, teach, exhort, contribute, lead, do acts of mercy. And in it all, know that all that you have and are, you have and are because of God’s amazing mercy.
2. Christian Humility Is a Self-Forgetting Happiness in Christ
That leaves one more reason to see for why Paul puts the emphasis on mercy-loving humility in his list of gifts. The reason is that Christian humility is a self-forgetting happiness in Christ. And this humble happiness in Christ is exactly what unleashes the kind of ministry God values—the spirit and attitudes of ministry, not just its task and function. This humility unleashes the spirit and attitude of ministry that loves people best and exalts Christ best.
Remember, humility is not mainly self-condemnation (there is plenty to condemn in ourselves, and if we think about it we should do it), but little ministry is produced with that kind of self-focus. What unleashes ministry is the positive side of humility: the overflow of humble joy in the mercy of Christ. Remember, the opposite of pride is mainly treasuring Christ. The kind of ministry Paul wants us all to be involved in is not calculated, careful, measured, self-protecting, self-advancing ministry. He wants us to be free and eager and lavish. This only comes from humble, self-forgetting hearts who are overflowing with joy in Christ.
It Is Not Just That We Use Our Gifts, But How We Use Them
I think this is why Paul broke his pattern in the last three gifts of verse 8. Instead of saying, “the one who contributes, in his contributing; the one who leads, in his leading; the one who does acts of mercy, in his acts of mercy,” which is what he had been saying, he says, “the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads,with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”
What matters to God is not merely that we use our gifts, but how we use them—the spirit, the attitude. What matters is not merely that we give and lead and show mercy. What matters to God is free and lavish generosity in our giving. What matters to God is passion and eagerness and zeal in our leadership. What matters to God is gladness and cheerfulness and joy in our mercy.
And my point—and I think Paul’s point—is that these are the overflow of mercy-dependent, mercy-loving, self-forgetting, Christ-treasuring humility.
Is this not what we need at Bethlehem? And isn’t this what the world needs? Not just philanthropists. Not just leaders. Not just do-gooders to the poor. The church and the world need people who have trembled in the courtroom of God as guilty sinners; who have heard the joyful sound of mercy from the bench of the Judge: “You may go free; my Son paid your debt”; who are therefore mercy-loving, mercy-dependent, Christ treasuring people; and who therefore overflow not just with contributions but self-forgetting, lavish contributions; and who don’t just lead, but lead with self-forgetting zeal and passion for the cause of Christ; and who don’t just do mercy, but love mercy and do it with self-forgetting joy.
That is what we need because that is what will show how valuable Christ is. He gets the glory, we get the joy.
A Song From Romans 12:7-8
O Jesus, take my bent away
For thinking much of me,
And kill my pride, and from this day
With mercy make me free.
O Jesus, grant the gift to see
The treasure that you are,
And as the night eclipses me,
O be my Morning Star.
And now if I should serve, or lead,
Or give, or mercy show,
O Jesus, let my love be freed,
And like a river flow.
O Jesus, be the treasure of
My heart and all I do,
And may the river of my love
Alone make much of you.
Words by John Piper
© 2004 John Piper