45. Romans 12:3-5
Belonging to each other
Chapter 12 marks the transition from Paul’s theological discussion of salvation and justification by faith to admonitions for living as a Christ-follower. In the first two verses he calls believers to offer themselves to God as living sacrifices—an offering which constitutes one’s reasonable act of worship to the God of the universe.
In verse three Paul begins to introduce the idea that each person is a member of the body of Christ. He establishes his right to give this instruction by saying he speaks on the authority of the grace given him. In the body, there is no room for conceit or superiority, he says. God has sovereignly gifted every member of the body with a “measure of faith” according to His will and for His purpose.
Paul knows human nature, and he warns these new believers against arrogance as they discover their spiritual gifts. He issues his warning on the basis of the authority inherent in the grace given him by God. The question arises: What is this grace? Many of us were taught that grace is “unmerited favor”. What unmerited favor gives Paul the authority to be the spiritual advisor to the Romans?
Paul defines God’s grace to him in several places. In Romans 15:15-16 he says God gave him the grace to be a minister of the gospel with the priestly duty of proclaiming God so the “Gentiles might become a sacrifice acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” In other words, Paul defines God’s grace as His call to him to be a minister of the gospel to the Gentiles.
To the Corinthians he wrote that he’s not worthy to be called an apostle because he persecuted the church, but by the grace of God, “I am what I am.” He insists that this grace was not without effect; he worked hard by the grace of God and preached, yielding believers (1 Corinthians 15:9-11). Here Paul refers to God’s grace as His miraculous call for him to be an apostle and also as God’s equipping of Him for ministry.
In Galatians 2:8-9 Paul identifies God at work in Peter’s ministry to the Jews and in his own work for the Gentiles. He tells how the “pillars” of the church in Jerusalem gave him the “right hand of fellowship” when they recognized the grace given him by God to evangelize the Gentiles. Again, he identifies the grace given him as his call to bring the gospel to the Gentiles.
Ephesians 5:7-9 explains that God gives grace to each Christ-follower as He sovereignly apportions it. This grace God gives according to His own will is what we call spiritual gifts. In Ephesians 3:7-9 Paul again identifies his own spiritual gift to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ to the Gentiles and to make plain to everyone the administration of the mystery of the new covenant.
Peter also identifies spiritual gifts as God’s grace. In 1 Peter 4:10-11 he identifies certain gifts God has given to His church and admonishes each person to administer this grace faithfully.
Measure of faith
Paul, under the authority of his apostleship granted to him by God, admonishes the Roman Christians to see themselves as they are in Christ, not with a skewed view of themselves as exceptionally gifted. He reminds them that his own authority over them is grace from God—not something bestowed by men or earned by his own talent. Similarly, their worth and their gifting is given to them by God according to His will and His plan. They cannot feel either superior nor inferior to each other, because each is equipped with exactly the gifts God designed for him or her.
“Think of yourselves with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you,” he says in verse 3.
Faith is a slightly ambiguous word—how does one see himself “in accordance with the measure of faith given [him]”? In 1 Corinthians 12:8-11, Paul identifies faith as one of the spiritual gifts God grants. While all Christ-followers are given saving faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), God grants some greater measures of faith than others. In 1 Corinthians 13:2 Paul echoes Jesus, saying that even if he has faith that “can move mountains” but has no love, he is nothing. The saying of Jesus to which Paul refers is in Matthew 17:19-20 when Jesus talks to his disciples about why they could not cast out a demon from a young man while He was on the Mount of Transfiguration. He told them they could not cast out the demon because they had so little faith. Then He said, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
It is crucial to understand that Biblical faith is not internal confidence in “faith” itself. True faith is faith in God Himself through Jesus Christ, and it is a gift from God. People have true Biblical faith only when they are responding to the call of God and receptive to Him. True faith is not faith in the Bible or its words—it is trust in the Author of the Bible. Many people pray for things, thinking that if they are focused and persistent about asking for what they want, it will happen. In this passage in Romans 12:3, however, Paul emphasizes that true faith is from God—and as we trust Him we gain a true perspective of ourselves and of His will for us. As we trust Him, He will work out His power in and through our lives as we become more and more aware of His mind and His will.
Paul admonishes believers to think of themselves with “sober judgment” according to the “measure of faith God has given you” (v. 3). He is asking people to be willing to see themselves realistically, as God sees them. We get insight into this practice of judging ourselves according to God’s perspective in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 where Paul reprimands the Corinthians for eating the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. Many of them have been coming to the table of Christ Jesus without regard for their fellow brothers and sisters. They have been class conscious, ignoring the poor and pushing themselves ahead to take most of the food. Some of the poorer, less socially sophisticated have been left out entirely because those who considered themselves more worthy ate more than their share and didn’t leave enough for everyone.
Paul chastises them for this greed and arrogance and explains that when they participate in the Lord’s supper without regard for the body of the Lord—either for their fellow members of the body of Christ or for the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus—they eat and drink judgment on themselves. Paul tells them that this unworthy participation is why many of them have grown sick and even died. God has been disciplining them, he says, so that their souls will not be lost. If each person would judge himself, Paul says, God would not have to discipline him. As Christ-followers, we are expected to examine ourselves against the will of God revealed by the Holy Spirit, and if we are nurturing sin in our hearts, we are to submit it to the Lord.
David wrote in Psalm 32:5 that he acknowledged his sin and didn’t cover up his iniquity. He said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and God forgave him the guilt of his sin. Hundreds of years later, the apostle John wrote that if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and truth is not in us. If, however, we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9). A correct understanding—correct judgment—of ourselves includes honest admission of our intractable sin. As long as we deny our culpability and brokenness, we continue to hurt other people, behave in self-destructive ways, and live in deception which keeps us from recognizing reality and truth in our circumstances.
In giving us new hearts and filling us with His Spirit, Jesus has given us the means of knowing the truth about ourselves as well as His power to face it without fear. In 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 Paul tells us that the man without the Holy Spirit cannot accept the things from the Spirit, but the spiritual man makes judgments about all things. He himself is not subject to any man’s judgment, but we as Christ-followers who are born again have the mind of Christ. God gives us His own knowledge and insight when we are in Christ. We can choose to look away from what He reveals to us, miring deeper into our pretending, self-indulgence, and denial, or we can embrace the reality He reveals and choose to accept His power to walk in truth and victory. The Holy Spirit not only reveals the truth about Jesus, but He reveals to us our own true natures and the reality of our own self-deception and denial. He Himself becomes the One who brings us out of our pit of anxiety and fear and gives us new life and freedom and release in Jesus.
Another advantage of becoming born again is that we are made part of the body of Christ and have available the benefit of other Christ-followers’ insights and judgments. 1 Corinthians 6:1-6 addresses the issue of Christians taking their disputes before ungodly judges for settlement. Paul chastises the Corinthians, reminding them that the saints will judge the world and also angels. If they are qualified in Christ to judge angels and the world, how much more will they be qualified to judge the issues of life in this world? God gives us the mind of Christ when we are in Him, and enlightens us with His own understanding of truth and reality. In Him we have access to true knowledge and sound judgment.
In his epistles Paul introduces a whole new metaphor to identify God’s people in the new covenant. God had called Israel His people, His first-born, his children—but He had never described them as His body before Jesus came. The “body” metaphor implies an identification and an intimacy that “people” and even “children” does not suggest.
1 Corinthians 12:12-13 explains how we as Christ-followers become part of Jesus’ body. Diverse as we are, we are “all baptized by one Spirit into one Body…and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” Paul continues in verse 20 by saying there are many parts (each of us), but one body, and in verse 27 he reiterates that collectively Christ-followers are the body of Christ, and each one is a part of it. In chapter 10:15-17 where Paul describes the proper way to observe communion, he states that the cup and the loaf both represent Christ’s body. Because there is one loaf (as opposed to many loaves), we “who are many” are really only one body because we partake of one loaf. Individually, Christ-followers partake of Christ; collectively that singular connection makes us one in Him.
In 1 Corinthians 6:15 Paul makes an especially thought-provoking explanation of how we are to consider ourselves as the body of Christ. He states that our bodies are “members of Christ Himself”, and he asks if, therefore, he—as a part of Christ’s body—should unite the members of Christ with a prostitute. In other words, Paul is saying that as Christ’s body, we must remember that we are literally connected to Him by the Holy Spirit who unites us all in Christ. If we are immoral, we are literally bringing Jesus’ body into an immoral act, and we are sinning against Him in a profound way. We involve the Holy Spirit in our immoral union and commit deep transgression against our intimacy with God through the indwelling Holy Spirit.
In Ephesians Paul explains in more detail how Jesus made us into His body. “He himself is our peace,” he writes in 2:14-15a, “who has made the two [Jews and Gentiles] one and has destroyed the barrier of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.” He continues by explaining that Jesus’ purpose was to “create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making pace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”
The law was the entity which kept the Jews and Gentiles separate from each other; it was the dividing wall of hostility, or the barrier, between the two people groups. Jesus destroyed the barrier and created only one group in Himself. He no longer has Jews and Gentiles; he has created a new race: the “born again”. In Christ we are all “one body” united by one Spirit and called to one hope (Ephesians 4:4). Because we are united, we must “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to [our] neighbors, for we are all members of one body” (Ephesians 4:25).
Another text emphasizing our identity with Christ’s body is Ephesians 5:23 which states that Christ is head of the church of which He is the Savior. He feeds and cares for the church because we’re members of His body (Ephesians 5:29-30). When we are in Christ, our identity is completely new. We are united with other believers by the Holy Spirit, and we experience an intimacy with other born-again Christ-followers that is not possible between natural humans. Further, we are literally connected to Jesus in a profound way—He is the head of the body, and we are the members of the body. Christians aren’t just people who have intellectually accepted Jesus. True Christ-followers are new creations born of the Holy Spirit and connected to the Father and the Son through the provision of Jesus’ blood. Our lives are hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). We are in a new “place” when we go from being “in Adam” as natural humans and become “in Christ”. We are now to “let the peace of Christ rule in [our] hearts” because we are “members of one body” (Colossians 3:15).
The Head of the Body
We all, with our different gifts and functions, comprise the body of Christ. Jesus Himself is the head. His function as the head is to protect, nurture, love, and equip the body. Ephesians 5:23-32 compares Jesus’ relationship with the church to a husband’s relationship with his wife. Jesus is the church’s Savior, and the church submits to Christ in everything. Christ the Head loves the church and gave Himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her by washing her with water through the word. Jesus presents the church to Himself as a radiant church without stain, wrinkle, or any blemish. He makes her holy and blameless and loves her as His own body. He feeds and cares for the church, and we are members of His body, united with Christ and one with Him.
Ephesians 1:22-23 says that God appointed Jesus “placed all things under [Jesus’] feet and head over everything for the church—his body—the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” The interesting, mysterious revelation in this text is that the body, the church is the “fullness” of Jesus who Himself “fills everything in every way.” The Lord Jesus fills us by making us new, equipping us, putting His Spirit and His love in our hearts, and becoming our all-in-all. Once He has filled us in every way, we then are His fullness. He, our Head, is filled by us, His body, and we are filled in very way by Him. We honor Him and serve Him because He loves, nurtures, feeds, and cleanses us. Our Head has become one with us, and He makes us new in order to unite with Him.
Colossians 1:18 declares Jesus to be the head of the body, the church; He is also the beginning and the firstborn from the dead. In every way Jesus brings about existence and life and quickens His body to participate in His eternal reality and truth.
In Colossians 2:10 Paul reveals that we have fullness in Christ—not only because He is our head but because He is “head over every power and authority.” No rule or life or power or authority exists outside the headship of Christ. On the cross Jesus “disarmed the powers and authorities,” making “a public spectacle of them , triumphing over them by the cross” (Col 2:15). By dying as the perfect Sacrifice for sin, Jesus disarmed the power of evil. It no longer has the authority to claim the life of all creation. Now, because of Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection from death, all those who place their faith in Him are free from the curse and power of sin and evil.
Even evil powers are subject to Jesus. His headship extends over all creation. Nothing functions or exists apart from Him.
Paul uses the image of “head” to describe the relationship of a husband to a wife as well. It is fascinating that he compares the marriage relationship to the relationship between Jesus and His body, the church.
Ephesians 5:23 and 28 clearly direct us to see these two relationships as mirroring each other. Verse 23 describes the husband as head of the wife “as Christ is head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” Verse 28 continues this identification by comparing the description of Christ’s purifying love for the church with the way husband are to love their wives. “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”
This identification of Christ’s self-sacrificing love for the church with a husband’s love for his wife is further enlarged in Ephesians 1:22-23 where Paul says that God placed all things under Christ’s feet and appointed Him head over everything for the church which is His body, “the fullness of him who fills all things in every way.” Jesus fills up His people—His body—with all spiritual blessings and physical provision. He is in charge of everything, and He provides for and protects the church, preserving her for Himself. This image of Jesus taking ultimate responsibility over everything—spiritual and physical and relational—for the church is the image of a husband’s role in relationship to His wife. Jesus fills the church with everything—and the church is His fullness. By His sovereign love and provision, He makes us complete, and is some mysterious way, our completion in Him makes Him complete.
This headship image is expanded in 1 Corinthians 11:3 where Paul say the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Related to this intimate picture of God and man is Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 3:21-23 where he makes the point that we are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
The image of “headship” is easier to picture than to explain verbally. Yet we are to see that the Father relates to Jesus as Jesus relates to the church—as husbands relate to wives. The self-sacrificing love of the Head whose purpose is to purify, exalt, and perfect the body is a divine love that God Himself embodies and bestows on Jesus and also onto men as they relate to their wives. Further, we all—men and women—are “of Christ” who is “of God”—and each one of us is part of Christ’s body. Wives are not less Christ’s than their husbands. In Christ, each of us is brought into the most intimate of relationships with God: we are part of Him as the very body of Christ. At the same time, within this mysterious oneness with Jesus as His body, husbands and wives are, in Christ, intimately reflecting the same filling and fulfilling through the care of the husband and the respect of the wife that each of them experiences with Jesus.
The Head of Jesus
Paul extends the “head” metaphor even further. Not only is the husband head of the wife as Christ is head of the church, but God is the head of Christ. The idea of God the Father as the head of Christ invokes the mystery of the Trinity. We cannot understand exactly “how” the Three In One God functions, but we can know what the Bible tells us.
First, in Colossians 1:19-20, Paul explains that God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Jesus, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself having made peace through the blood of His cross. This reconciling included all things both in heaven and on earth. As the Head of Jesus, the Father gave Him ALL of His own power, authority, and wisdom. Jesus, as the fullness of God, reconciled all things to Himself—and to the Father—by making peace through His blood shed on the cross.
In Ephesians 1:9-10 Paul further explains that God revealed to us the mystery of His will—a mystery He purposed to accomplish in Christ when the right time would come. Jesus came to earth at exactly God’s appointed time to fulfill God’s purpose and to reveal His will: that all things in heaven and earth would be brought under one head, Jesus Christ. Here again we see how God as the head of Christ gave all His authority and honor to Jesus who came and fulfilled all God’s purposes in Himself.
Philippians 2:8 further explains that Jesus, “being found in appearance as a man, humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” Jesus, very God and the Son of the Father, nonetheless humbled himself “by becoming obedient” (NASB) to the point of death. Jesus submitted Himself to His father’s will. Consequently, the Father exalted Him and “bestowed on Him the name that is above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee would bow, of those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue would confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 1:9-11).
The model here of “headship” is that Jesus humbled Himself and submitted to God’s will, taking into Himself all the suffering and ignominy of atoning for sin. God, therefore, exalted Jesus and gave Him complete honor, power, and authority both in heaven and on earth. As the Head, the Father did not seek to claim honor for Jesus’ obedience. He bestowed all honor and love and glory on His Son—and this exalting of Jesus brings glory to the Father.
In Ephesians 1:18-23 Paul prays that we as the body of Christ will know the riches of Christ which is His inheritance “in the saints”: His incomparably great power for those who believe.” This power is like His resurrection power which God exerted in Christ and set Him above all rule and authority and power and dominion—and above every title in heaven and on earth. God made Him “head over everything for the church, the fullness of Him who fills all things.” Again we see God bestowing all glory and honor on Jesus, and, as we submit to Jesus, we also receive the resurrection power from God that raised Jesus from death. As new creations in Christ, we are brought to life by the same power that raised Jesus from death.
Hebrews emphasizes God’s exalting and honoring of Jesus. Hebrews 1:5-6 quotes the Psalms and states that God never said to angels, “You are my Son, today I have become your Father”—or “I’ll be his Father, and he my Son”. Further, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”
In verses 7-9 the author continues showing Jesus’ superiority over the angels and the Father’s exalting of Him. God calls his angels “winds” and “flames of fire”, but he declares to His Son that the Son is God whose throne lasts forever, and righteousness will be his scepter. He will be “set above all”.
Verses 9-10 show that God calls Jesus the Creator of heaven and earth. The creations will perish, but Jesus will remain unchanged.
Finally, in verses 13-14, the author of Hebrews shows that angels are ministering spirits sent to those who belong to God, but God never tells them to sit at His right hand as he told Jesus.
God’s headship over Jesus models Jesus’ headship over the church and husbands’ headship over wives. God never exerted force over Jesus nor used Him to serve Him. Rather, the Father gave Jesus great authority and responsibility—entrustments which included great suffering on behalf of those He served and over whom He had authority. God cared for Jesus and trusted Him; He gave Him His power to endure and accomplish and come back from the ultimate suffering He endured.
As the Son of the Father, His Head, Jesus submitted to His Father’s will and became obedient. Jesus trusted His Father. Instead of fighting against the ultimate responsibility God bestowed on Him, Jesus took it into Himself and trust God to hold and strengthen Him as He carried out God’s will. The Father, therefore, exalted Jesus above every power, authority, and all creation. God gave Jesus His own glory and honor and seated Him at His right hand, directing the praise and worship of all creation to Jesus, not to Himself directly—and this honoring and worship of Jesus bring glory to the Father.
How the Head treats the body
As the head of the Body, the church, Jesus fulfills specific roles and functions. Although He has identified us completely with Him, He does not make us identical to Him. Although He has eternally taken our human identity, He nevertheless is still God. As God he does things for us as His own body which we cannot do for ourselves.
In John 17:22-26 Jesus prayed for His disciples and all those who would follow Him throughout history. He states that He has given His followers the glory the Father gave Him in order for them to be one as He and His Father are one. He describes the astonishing reality that the Father is in Him, and He is in us, and He prays this oneness will bring all of us, His believers, into complete unity.
There is mystery in this prayer which we cannot fully explain, but Jesus does take full responsibility for the condition of His disciples, present and future, and gives them Himself so they will not be alone but will be united not only with Him but, in Him, united also with other believers. This task of uniting in intimacy is Jesus’ function as the head.
In John 16:12-15 Jesus explains in more detail how this mystery of unity will happen. The Holy Spirit, He explains, will come and will make plain to those who believe in Him the reality of Jesus and what He did for them. The Spirit will take what belongs to Jesus and give it to His followers. Further, all that belongs to the Father belongs to Jesus, and the Spirit will teach all this to Jesus’ followers. This sharing of what is Christ’s will bring glory to Jesus.
Jesus became Head of the body by taking full responsibility for destroying the barrier—the law with its commands and regulations—in His own body by dying on the cross. He took the dividing wall out of the way, making the previously separated groups—Jews and Gentiles—one in Him (see Ephesians 2:14-17). By taking the curse of the law and sin into Himself and destroying it, bringing all men to Himself without division, Jesus reveals God’s “manifold wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realm. This wisdom is revealed through the church and is accomplished according to God’s eternal purpose in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:10-11).
Having made all believing humanity one in Him, Jesus further gave gifts to them according to His own determination (Ephesians 4:7-8). Not only does Jesus give gifts of grace to His people, making them in Him and uniting them with each other, Himself, and the Father, but He “fill the whole universe”. His gifts to His body are for the purpose of building them up until they reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of man, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:10-13).
Christ is the head of the church which is His body, and He is its Savior (Ephesians 5:25-27). He loved the church and gave Himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her by washing with water through the word and presenting her to Himself as a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish. He presented her to Himself holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:31-32). He is united with the church, the Head with the body, as a husband is united with his wife who leaves his parents and becomes one flesh with her (Ephesians 5:31-32).
As the Head of the body, Jesus takes full responsibility for the health, growth, and development of the church. He Himself took the wrath the body deserved, paying in His flesh the price for their life. He not only cleanses the church, making her one with Him in an intimacy only He could initiated—withholding none of Himself from her, forgiving her, placing His holiness in Her, but when He has cleansed her, He presents Her to Himself as a radiant church. In other words, He doesn’t put her in a servile position of indebtedness. He rescues and cleanses her, then presents Her to Himself as a radiant and desirable bride. He holds her in a position of honor, and He proceeds to nurture, protect, and feed her. He gives her gifts only He can give, building her up and making her into far more than she could ever have been without Him.
He exalts her, loves her, devotes Himself to Her, eternally lives with the marks of His Sacrifice for Her sake in order to make her spotless, a glory to Him and a glory to the Father. He is most honored and glorified when His body submits to His exalting of her through the disciplines of honesty, vulnerability, and acceptance of His grace and gifts. He fills her completely—and in a mystery we cannot comprehend, she fills Him.
As the head of the church, Jesus accepts all responsibility for her health and growth and perfection. He takes all her shame and guilt and brokenness into Himself, and He gives Her His holiness and life and power. Paradoxically, in giving her His very life, He is not diminished. Rather, He is exalted above heaven and earth. The Father makes Him head over everything, and in the church’s radiance and fullness and power, Jesus Himself is glorified and honored more than He would have been without having given Himself to the point of death for His bride.
Husbands and wives
As head of the wife, a husband is to love her as Christ loves the church. Ephesians 5:25-33 is a passage with dual application; Paul interweaves Christ’s sacrificial, redemptive love for the church with his instructions for husbands in relationship to their wives. Jesus gave Himself for the church to perfect her and make her holy, to present her to Himself as a radiant, spotless church. This model is the guideline for husbands as well. Sacrificial love pours itself out for the growth and development and holiness of the wife. Such love is unthreatened by the wife and her potential. Rather, because the husband has been loved in this same way by Jesus—exalted and forgiven and nurtured and loved—a husband is equipped to love his wife similarly.
A husband is to leave his family and identify himself with his wife and his new family unit they create. Emotionally as well as physically husbands (and also wives) are to disengage from their parents and make their spouse their first priority. Jesus, for example, never stopped being fully God, but he left His Father and became fully identified with humanity. For this sacrificial gift and love, God honored and exalted him.
A godly husband encourages and helps his wife to become godly also, to develop in the Lord and to exercise the gifts He gives her. Similarly, a godly wife is submissive to her husband’s care and love and would never seek to gain power over her husband or manipulate him. A godly husband is not threatened by his wife’s development in the Lord, and a wife’s growth remains in the context of respecting and honoring her husband as her head who provides for and nurtures her.
A husband is to treat his wife with the same care and attention to detail as he treats his own body. He provides materially for her—food, shelter, medical care—and he also loves her and cherishes her. In fact, verse 27 reveals a profound insight. Christ takes us hopeless, depraved sinners and restores us with His love and forgiveness and nurture. He does this not so we will present ourselves to him as grateful slaves indebted to Him in slavish obedience, but so He can then present us to Himself as a radiant church. In other words, Jesus doesn’t clean us up so we can become desirable to Him and then, clean and holy, present ourselves to Him in the hope that He will take us for His church.
On the contrary, Jesus loves us when we are hopeless and depraved. He cleans us up and grows us in holiness, and then He presents us to Himself. We are the recipients of His redemptive love and His desire for intimacy at each step.
This is the model of a husband’s love for his wife. He sacrifices his personal interests and indulgences and even “rights” for the sake of honoring and nurturing his wife. If a wife is also a godly person, a godly husband’s sacrificial love for his wife will result in the wife being a radiant, devoted, joyful wife who is alive in the Lord and exercising her own spiritual gifts under the care and protection of her husband.
While a husband is to love his wife sacrificially, a wife is to honor and respect her husband. As part of the bride of Christ, she, too, has been cleansed and made radiant by Jesus. She, then, is able to submit herself to her husband’s care, accepting his nurture and wisdom and provision with respect and thankfulness.
Colossians 3:19 gives the further instruction that husbands are to love their wives and not be harsh with them, and 1 Peter 3:7 instructs husbands to be considerate of their wives and to treat them as their weaker partner and heirs with them so nothing will hinder the husbands’ prayers. The word “weaker” in this verse denotes physical strength and does not suggest moral or spiritual or intellectual weakness. In other words, husbands are to see their wives as literally needing their physical protection and help. They are also to see their wives as their partners, not as their subservients, and they are to treat them as joint heirs of God along with them. Peter makes the surprising statement that if a husband does not treat his wife with care and love, his prayers will be hindered.
Wives, also, are to be submissive to their husbands as Sarah was submissive to Abraham. They are to have gentle, quiet spirits, putting their hope in God, doing what is right and not giving way to fear. Because a woman’s hope is in God, she has the power of the Holy Spirit in her to hold her heart in hope instead of fear. As she trusts God, she can give up her drive to manage her husband and make things “happen”. She can rest in Jesus and know that He is at work not only in her life in general but specifically in her husband as well. She can trust God to lead and teach and perfect her husband according to His time and His will, and she can stay calm and respectful, honoring her husband and honoring God who is perfecting His work in her as well. (See 1 Peter 3:1-6.)
These instructions for husbands and wives are not possible outside the context of the new birth. Only with the Spirit of our Head living in us can we hope to love and respect one another as Christ asks us to. Jesus Himself is the only hope a husband has for loving sacrificially, for nurturing his wife and giving her heart a safe home, loving her and helping her to become more than she could be if she were alone.
Likewise, Jesus Himself is the only hope a wife has of giving up her desire to control her husband and allowing Him to be God’s charge. Jesus, the One who humbled Himself in submission to His Father, is the only one who can give a wife the selflessness to submit and respect her husband, trusting God to do in him and in her what He desires. Only God can give a woman the peace to release her fear and to help and support her husband as he grows in authority and humility and wisdom in the Lord.
Living as a body
The great mystery for us as Christ-followers is how we live as a single body when we are many individuals scattered around the world. Romans 6:8-11 lays the foundation for this divine mystery: Jesus died to sin once for all, and we as His followers are to count ourselves dead to sin but alive in Christ. Because we accept Jesus and His sacrifice, because we are brought to life by the Holy Spirit, we are new creatures, and now we are IN Jesus. Our lives are hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). Because all of us Christ-followers are hidden and alive in Christ, we are united as one body in Him, even though we are scattered.
Romans 15:5-6 further explains that God gives us all a Spirit of unity as we follow Christ Jesus, so with heart and mouth we may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit who brings each of us to life also unifies us. We are made alive by and in the Same Person, He becomes our source and sustenance. Because we are alive in Him, He also unifies our purpose and our commitment: honoring the Lord Jesus to the glory of God.
Paul gives practical advice in Colossians 3:14-15. He tells us to bear with one another, forgiving whatever grievances we have against each other. We are to forgive as the Lord forgives us, and over all our virtues which we have in Christ, we are to put on love which binds everything together in perfect unity. He further explains, in Ephesians 2:14-18, that this unity in Christ is possible because Jesus Himself became our peace. In His flesh he destroyed the dividing wall of hostility—the law—and reconciled the Gentiles and the Jews to God through the cross. In Himself—not apart from Him, but only in Himself—he made one new man out of the two: Jew and Gentile. Through Jesus we all now have access to the Father through the one Spirit.
The unity and love which the Bible commands us to practice is only possible when we are individually in Christ Jesus. When we place our faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit seals us and indwells us, making us alive in Christ. We are given the Spirit of adoption (Romans 8: 16), and it is then we become sons and daughters of God, members of His family. As God’s children, hidden in Him in Christ (Col 3:3), we have the ability to live in unity and love with the rest of God’s family. The Bible commands us to live as true children of God, maintaining our unity through the Spirit and honoring each other as uniquely and personally accepted and gifted by God Himself.
As God’s adopted children made alive by the Holy Spirit we are joined together in Him, and collectively we rise together to become a holy temple in the Lord. In Him we “are being built together to become a holy temple to the Lord” (Ephesians 2:21-22). The interesting thing about this passage is that every part of our being built together occurs IN Jesus. We are not cemented into a body because of Jesus or through Jesus or by Jesus. We are built together into His temple (many parts being made into a single whole) IN Jesus. Further, we are being built In Him to form a holy temple IN Him. None of our spiritual unity happens outside of Jesus. Further, our collective function as the temple of the Lord occurs IN Jesus as well. He doesn’t come to us and “honor” us by choosing us for His temple. Rather, when we are born again we become hidden in Him, and only IN Him do we become His temple. He indwells us and builds us into His body and makes us into His holy temple—and all of this happens IN Him.
Ephesians 3:6 further explains that Jesus revealed the mystery that “through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise of Christ Jesus.” Moreover, God’s intent was that He would reveal “His manifest wisdom” to all the powers in the heavenly realms through the church according to His purpose in Christ Jesus. In Him and through faith in Him we all—Jews and Gentiles—can approach the Father with freedom and confidence. We are to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace because there is only one body, one Spirit, one hope to which we are called, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (Ephesians 3:10-12, 4:3-6). In Christ all our reality changes. Instead of being independent, unconnected individuals, we are united by the Spirit Who makes us alive through the blood of Jesus. In Him we have one Father, one identity, and one purpose.
As we are built up in Christ we will become mature, not blown about by every wind of teaching, cunning, and craftiness. We’ll speak the truth in love and grow up into our Head, Jesus. In Him the whole body is joined together and is held in place by every supporting ligament. It grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:14-16).
As members of Christ’s body we are to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave us (Ephesians 4:32).
Paul also told the Corinthians that jus as a body is a unit of many parts, so it is with Christ. We are baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether we are Jews, Greeks, slaves, or free, and we are given one Spirit to drink (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). Further, God has arranged the parts of His body just as He wishes, taking all of us and making us into one body. We can’t demean or disregard each other, considering our own contributions to be more important than anyone else’s. Just as we protect the weaker and unpresentable parts of our physical bodies, so we are to protect and treat with special care every part of the Christ’s body, even those whose gifts are less visible and seemingly humble. God has given special honor to the parts that lack obvious honor.
Whether a person is mentally or physically handicapped or obviously gifted, if she knows Jesus, she is part of His body. We are to honor and respect one another as equal before God and of equal value to Him, caring for the weaker members and honoring Him by honoring His body.
Peter compared Christ-followers to living stones being built into a spiritual house founded on the Living Stone which the builders rejected. Jesus, the Living Stone was chosen by and precious to God, and we, the living stones, are a “holy priesthood” who offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God (1 Peter 2:4-6). Just as the Levitical priests offered sacrifices to God for Israel, we as His holy priesthood offer ourselves and our praise and service to Him as acceptable spiritual sacrifices. Jesus has atoned for our sins and made us righteous before God. Now, as people qualified to enter the presence of God, we off Him spiritual sacrifices which are acceptable to Him because we are declared righteous in Christ.
We become part of the body of Christ when we place our trust in Jesus and are born from above by the Holy Spirit. At that point our lives become hidden with Christ in God, (Col. 3:3), and our entire reality changes. We become one not only with Jesus but with each other, united by the Holy Spirit with Christ-followers all over the globe. Even when we do not know them, the Holy Spirit in us knows them, and we can pray “in the spirit” for them (Ephesians 6:18).
As members of Christ’s body we are to see each other as vital to our own existence and health. All other Christ-followers are equally important, whether they are high-profile or disabled, gifted or simple. We are to honor and respect each other, regarding each other as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). Above all, we are to honor Christ as our Head. None of us receives our gifts or appointments apart from Him, and only in Him do we find our own identities and meaning. We are to exercise our gifts first for the building up of the rest of the body, and as a body strengthened and equipped by Jesus our Head and honored and loved by one another, we are to strive together for the faith of the gospel.
Jesus asks each of us to submit to His will for us. He asks each of us to see ourselves as on an equal playing field with one another, each supporting the others as we all do the tasks at hand which God has given us to do. He asks us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to, and He asks us also to honor and submit to the authority He establishes.
Wives are to respect and submit to their husbands, and all of us are to submit to the Headship of Jesus whose body we are. We are to trust Him to care for us and to nurture us. He will provide food, and physical needs, but He will also cleanse us and make us spotless, claiming us as His perfect church, unmarked by stain or wrinkle or any other blemish.
Ask Jesus to give you an understanding of your identity in Him. Ask Him to keep you from comparing yourself to others. Ask Him to keep you faithful and honoring Him.
Ask Him to help you know, see, and love as He knows, sees, and loves. Ask Him to fill you with the knowledge of His will with all wisdom and understanding, Submit yourself to Jesus as a living sacrifice, trusting Him to work out in you whatever His will is.
Ask Jesus to make you content to be a member of His body, equally yoked in service to the Lord Jesus with every other Christ-follower in the world.
Praise Him for bringing you from death to life and for giving you the great privilege of being one with Him and of living out His presence in service to others. Praise Jesus for His shed blood which makes us all equal and part of Him at the foot of the cross.
Measure of faith
Paul follows his admonition to offer ourselves as living sacrifices with a warning against arrogance or self-inflation. He reminds the Roman Christians that in Christ they are all members of one body, and each belongs to the others as a distinct part of the organism. He also emphasizes that God has sovereignly gifted each person with a “measure of faith” according to His will and for His purpose.
1. Paul prefaces his admonition against conceit and arrogance with a reminder of his qualification to speak to them this personally. What is “the grace given me” by whose authority he speaks? (see Romans 15:15-16; 1 Corinthians 15:9-10; Galatians 2:8-9; Ephesians 5:7-9; 4:7-8; 1 Peter 4:10-11)
2. In verse 3 Paul warns the Roman believers against conceit and feeling superior to one another. Rather, he admonishes, they should think of themselves with “sober judgment” according to “the measure of faith God has given you.” What is “the measure of faith” God gives people, and how is this “measure” to inform our opinions of ourselves? (see 1 Corinthians 12:8-11; 13:2; Matthew 17:19-20)
3. What does Paul mean when he says we are to think of ourselves with “sober judgment”? (see 1 Corinthians 11:27-32; Psalm 32:5; 1 John 1:8-9; 1 Corinthians 2:14-16; 6:1-6)
4. Paul uses the metaphor of a single body with distinct parts to describe believers. Who comprises this body, and if we are “a body”, whose body are we? (see 1 Corinthians 6:15; 10:15-17;12:12-13, 20, 27; Ephesians 2:14-16; 4:4; 25; 5:23, 29-30; Colossians 3:15)
5. If each of us is part of “the body”, and each of us has unique functions to contribute to the body, who functions as the head, and what is the function of the head? (see Ephesians 5:23-32; 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18; 2:10
6. In what other contexts is the term “head” used to describe spiritual reality? (see Ephesians 5:23; 28; 1:22-23; 1 Corinthians 11:3; 3:21-23)
7. As the head of Christ, how does the Father relate to Jesus? (see Colossians 1:19-20; Ephesians 1:9-10; 18-23; Hebrews 1:5-6; 7-9; 10-12; 13-14)
8. As head of the church, how does Christ relate to us? (see John 17:22-26; 16:12-15; Ephesians 2:14-17; 3:10-11; 4:7-8, 10-13; 14-16; 5:23; 25-27; 31-32)
9. As head of his wife, how is a man to relate to her? (see Ephesians 5:25-33; Colossians 3:19)
10. How do believers scattered all over the globe function as one body? (see Roman 6:8-11; 15:5-6; Colossians 3:14-15; Ephesians 2:14-18; 21-22; 3:6; 10-12; 4:3-6; 14-16; 32; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13; 18-27; 1 Peter 2:4-6)
11. How have you understood your role in Christ’s body? How have you understood His role?
12. Ask God to keep you submitted and humble before Him. Ask Him to keep your heart content and to equip you for the work He has prepared for you to do. Ask Him to teach you haw to relate to Him as your Head. Ask God to keep you from comparing yourself to other Christ-followers but to be thankful for His calling and gifting of you for His purposes.
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