For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (Romans 12:3-13)
The key to the passage is verse 5: “In Christ we, though many, form one body.” The image of the human body to describe a group of people is not an uncommon one in the literature of the time, but the New Testament takes it to new depths. During his life on earth, the disciples of Jesus, although they were a very diverse group, must already have felt an intense unity stemming from their attachment to him. But after the Resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit, this unity took on a whole new dimension: the believers found that they were “in” Christ, and that together they somehow now constituted a single organism.
Believers in Christ are actually parts of each other. This reality is often largely hidden from us. If we think of the Church as an institution with a list of members, or else as a provider of some sort of service or product of which we are consumers, we will be quite unable to see it. For it depends on the presence of the Holy Spirit in us, deep within ourselves. It is a mysterious communion that unites people by what is deepest in each one.
Many of us feel lonely or somehow dislocated from life: we feel we do not have a place where we really belong. And the result is that we often seek to assert ourselves over and against others, trying to dominate them in some way. Or else we undervalue ourselves and consider what we do to be worth nothing. Entering the reality of forming one body in Christ can be a remedy for this kind of alienation. We no longer need to seek security by “thinking of ourselves more highly (or less highly) than we ought” (v. 3), but we are free to have a “sober judgment”, because in an organism every part has its unique value and has an irreplaceable role to play. If one part arrogates to itself the roles of others, the whole body is impoverished. If parts hold back from playing their role, the entire organism is handicapped. But when everyone exercises their gifts fully, all are enriched.
To each person, God has apportioned a unique “grace”, a role to play in the life of the whole body, by understanding, by trusting, by persevering, and by actions in harmony with other members of the Church. There is a happiness in fulfilling that role. And the role I have to fulfil is my own, not somebody else’s.
The passage gives some examples: there are special gifts of being able to touch and challenge people’s hearts (such as “prophecy”); there are ordained ministries and definite posts in the Church (including “teaching” and “service”); there are human gifts to be exercised mainly in informal ways (“encouragement”) and so on. In Christ’s Church, everyone is called to be herself or himself. God loves this diversity, wanting no two people to be exactly the same, but for all to use their particular gifts – including their as yet undiscovered gifts – for the wellbeing of the whole.
Have I experienced anything of “being one body in Christ”? How could I go deeper into this experience?
Living out this reality is usually possible only in a community that is part of a local church. Where is this community for me, or where could it be?
What gifts do I have that I could offer to Christ as a part of his body, the Church? Am I inclined to overvalue them or to undervalue them?
What gifts do I see in other members of the Church? What can I do to affirm them and to benefit from them?