I hope you will agree with me that it is a great blessing to worship Jesus alongside people from other nations in an international fellowship. We know that when we say ‘our country’ we don’t mean India or England, we mean the kingdom of heaven.
Citizens of our country are not defined by appearance. Our country people don’t all look the same or wear the same styles. Our eyes, our hair, our skins are various colours. What defines us is that we have the same father. Everyone in our country is ruled by the same one true God and worships truly the same God.
We all of us were lost and citizens of other nations. We each belonged to different nations, but all of them were controlled by Satan. All of us, despite our sins, were showered with mercy by the same God. None of us, not one, deserved God’s mercy. He poured it out just the same, not caring what language we spoke or what passport we carried. He saw us all, citizens of alien lands, and loved us as lost children.
Each of us at some point recognised the amazing mercy of God, saw how he loved us without caring how we looked or what we did. He just loved us and our hearts came alive. We responded to his mercies by offering him our bodies. All of us, however different, we responded the same way. We gave up our will for our lives. We gave up our nationality. We gave up all our desires. We gave our bodies to God as a sacrifice.
We took instead his will for us. All of us have travelled our own paths to arrive here today in this place because God has led us here. On our way here God has been transforming our minds.
God will continue transforming our minds as we continue to accept his will for us. And we know it is his will for us that when we say ‘our country’ we mean ‘his country’. We are all of us together on our way to the same country. The Bible talks of this as being like a body.
Paul says in today’s reading in verse 5 that having become ‘a new person by changing the way you think’ you are now part of ‘Christ’s body’. He says, ‘We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.’
You don’t belong to yourself. Do you realise what that means? Do you appreciate the implications of Paul’s statement? We have given our bodies to God as a living and holy sacrifice of the kind God will find acceptable. Your body is now God’s body. Your mind is God’s mind. Your will should be God’s will.
So you cannot claim to own your body. You gave it to God. Don’t now try to take it back or to keep from God what belongs to him. And Paul tells us today that your body also belongs to me.
My body belongs to you. We all belong to each other. As one body, we cannot have different citizenships. We can only live in one country, and our country is God’s country. We have one body, and our body is God’s body. We have one mind and one will, and that is God’s mind and his will.
In a body, there is no hierarchy. Paul tells us that ‘each part has a special function’ but he doesn’t say one part is more important. Indeed, Paul has just said: ‘Don’t think you are better than you really are.’
In the world we know hierarchy is everywhere. It’s a system of authority. It’s a ladder of rank where people above give orders to those below them.
Jesus taught against this construct in the Gospels. And so did Paul and Peter. Didn’t Paul just tell us in verse 2, ‘Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world.’
We are therefore all equal, according to Romans 12. We are all recipients of the same love, we all have to same body and mind and will. We are equally valuable citizens of the same nation who belong to each other.
Look now please at verse 6. ‘God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.’
We are not all exactly the same. We are each unique. There is no hierarchy in the family of God, but not everyone is equal in gifting and spiritual stature.
This is where many get it wrong. There are people who are more mature and who have had their minds changed and renewed more than other people. They are not above us in a spiritual hierarchy, but scripture advises God’s people to submit to those who are ahead of them in spiritual life. They have matured further in spiritual life.
We are all equally valued as recipients of God’s love, but we aren’t equal in spiritual gifting, maturity, and wisdom. And there is to be no hierarchy in God’s body. We belong to each other equally.
So, says Paul. That little word ‘so’ is connecting what follows to what came before.
“So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you.”
The first gift listed is prophecy. This is the gift of knowing God’s will or speaking under divine inspiration. It’s a gift of the mind. This gift is closely connected with the previous verses, where we have been taught how God makes us new people and changes the way we think. It is also coming after the instruction to be humble and to realise there is only one body.
God gives the gift for the sake of his body. He gives to different people in different amounts. Paul instructs us to use this gift in accordance with our faith. God has given us faith. Now God has given a gift of prophecy. It is but one example of many gifts, but it’s clearly a result of the renewing that God has done in us. It would seem also that as the renewing continues over the weeks and months and years of sacrificing our bodies that God increases the gift.
In 1 Corinthians 14:1 Paul says, “Let love be your highest goal! But you should also desire the special abilities the Spirit gives—especially the ability to prophesy.”
It’s taught that the ability to prophesy is a most wonderful gift, but it isn’t taught that it makes us better than anyone else. We are told to desire this gift while making love our highest goal.
We are also taught to check what the prophets say. Don’t accept their words without making an examination of them. For this reason some people say that perhaps to prophesy according to the faith means to prophesy only in agreement with the teaching of the apostles.
We could say also that if we are to prophecy with as much faith as God has given us it means we must not add anything. This is important. It is in agreement with what Paul was saying about being humble. Paul told us to measure ourselves by the faith God has given us.
We started off by receiving grace without doing anything to deserve it. We then gave him our bodies as a sacrifice and God remade us as new people and changed our thinking. God did it all, we did nothing. He has made us into one body. And as equal members living for each other we also are to check on each other.
In the same place Paul also says of worship services, “Let two or three people prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said.” (1 Corinthians 14:29)
Prophecy does not overrule the unity of the body. We all exist for each other, and those who have the gift to prophesy are just one part of the body with equal value to all other parts.
We should desire to prophecy because it benefits the whole body. We should prophecy as an act of love for each other. We should only prophesy what God has given to us, as far as he has changed our thinking. Don’t speak the old worldly truths but the transformed words direct from God. It’s the first gift Paul lists. It’s for us as we are changed. There are other gifts, and each one is for us all.
We are all parts of one body, citizens of one country, serving and loving each other.