Assuming we are committed Christians according to the guidelines of Romans 12:1-2, how do we who are having our minds renewed and our lives transfigured think about life as we live it? Specifically, how do we who have had our minds renewed think about ourselves and fellow believers?
In verse 3 Paul again advises us negatively and positively. First the negative: “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…” (v. 3a). The language here is alive. If we were very literal, we could render the phrase, “I say to everyone, do not super-think of yourself,” Or perhaps “Do not get hyper about yourself!” Perhaps Paul knew of some individuals in Rome who thought they were better than others. Whatever the case, thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think is a universal tendency of the human race. Our Adamic nature loves to overthink about itself.
How then are we to think about ourselves? Paul gives us positive advice in verse 3b: “think [of yourself] with sober judgment.” Instead of super-thought there is to be sober thought. Paul continues, “according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” This most important phrase has often been given the misleading interpretation that sound judgment comes in proportion to the degree of our faith – if we have strong faith we will think rightly of ourselves. However the word “measure” should be translated “standard.” The idea is that God has allotted to each believer a standard of faith by which to measure himself – and that standard is Christ.
Paul is not asking the believer to estimate himself according to changing subjective feelings, but to examine himself according to his relationship to Christ. When one sees that Christ is the standard of measurement, he will not think of himself more highly than he ought, but will rather think of himself with sober judgment. It’s impossible to think more highly of ourselves than we ought if we are sound on this point. If we truly make Christ our standard, we will experience the reality of the beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3).
From thinking rightly about ourselves, we move in verses 4-5 to thinking rightly about fellow believers. Here Paul, a master illustrator, gives us a wonderfully mystical conception based on the human anatomy: “For as in one body we have many members and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” The word “as” at the beginning of verse 4 links it closely with verse 3 because when we think rightly about ourselves, with Christ as the standard, we will be able to think accurately about others – the Body of Christ.
This illustration underscores three characteristics of the Body of Christ: its unity, diversity, and mutuality. First, we will view its unity. Both verses 4 and 5 stress the one Body of which we are all members. We must emphasize that while this unity is mysterious, it is real! This is not an illustration that serves only to suggest that we should try to live in a more close-knit manner. It describes the reality that all of us are part of Christ’s Body if we trust in Him for our salvation. We share the same nature. We derive our spiritual life from the same source (John 15:5). Our unity is the subject of Christ’s prayers to the Father (John 17:21a, 22b, 23a).
Second, while there exists a profound, real unity, there is also a corresponding real diversity: “…the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one Body in Christ” (vv. 4b-5a). Without diversity the body would become a monstrosity. God’s glory is revealed in the diversity of His people. This means that as we measure ourselves by Christ’s standard we will be ourselves. Being Christ’s Body will maximize our uniqueness if we allow such. Of course we must be careful to allow others to be themselves. It is always a danger signal when members of a Christian organization or a church begin to all dress and act like the leader. When the Spirit of God is free to work in a church, there is diversity.
Finally, we must not stress this truth of diversity without grasping the balancing truth of our mutuality; we are “members one of another” (v. 5b). First Corinthians 12 beautifully emphasizes this mutuality by pointing out that when one member rejoices, the others rejoice, and when one member hurts, the others hurt. Each of us belongs to and needs the others. The church is no place for lone rangers. If your life seems stuck even though you read your Bible and pray, it may be that you are neglecting getting together with other believers and are depriving yourself of the exchange necessary for spiritual growth.
How beautiful this all is. Those who think rightly about themselves, measuring themselves by the standard that God has given them in their faith, discern the one body and recognize that they do not exist for themselves. As a result, they are free to develop and use their gifts.
Romans 12:3-5 Reflection Questions:
How do Paul’s words in verses 3-5 help Christians be more unified in one body?
What does Paul mean when he writes, “Be honest in your estimate of yourselves (v. 3)?