Sunday School Lesson
Lesson 9 (KJV)
Faith and Transformation
Devotional Reading: Ezekiel 11:17–21
Background Scripture: Romans 12:3–8
3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
4 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:
5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;
7 Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching;
8 Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.
Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us.—Romans 12:6a
Faith That Pleases God
Unit 2: Learning About Faith
After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. List several spiritual gifts.
2. Compare and contrast the printed text with the gift lists in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4.
3. Create a plan to use a spiritual gift more effectively.
How to Say It
Beatitudes Bee-a-tuh-toods (a as in mat).
caveat emptor (Latin) ka-vee-ought em-tor.
Corinthians Ko-rin-thee-unz (th as in thin).
A. Where’s My X-ray?
My four-year-old son, Valor, is fascinated by the human body. His favorite book to have me read is about the human body and its different parts. He loves opening the little tabs in the book to reveal the internal organs and bones of the “body.” A local medical clinic recently provided free medical exams, and Valor was excited. He listened carefully as the doctor’s assistant explained how the spine and nerves fit together. He got very excited about getting an X-ray, and that’s where things got difficult. He wasn’t old enough for an X-ray, but his sister and brother were.
That upset him. He wanted the picture of how his body fit together! For much of the trip home, he begged us to go back to get his X-ray picture taken. It’s too bad that Christians don’t concern themselves this much with how the body of Christ fits together. Maybe if we did, we would have healthier churches as members appreciated each other more.
B. Lesson Context
The book of Romans was written by Paul in about AD 58, probably toward the end of his third missionary journey. At that point, Paul had not yet been to Rome, but greatly wished to visit (Romans 1:11–15; 15:23–24). He would do so, but in chains as a prisoner, as Acts 27–28 records.
He made it to Rome by about AD 61 but remained under house arrest, unable to move about the city as he might have wished (Acts 28:16, 20, 23, 30). Paul wrote his letter to the church at Rome to introduce himself and his teaching prior to a personal visit there. The church likely had been established not long after the day of Pentecost, some three decades earlier (2:1). Some of the Jews who heard Peter’s sermon that day were from Rome (2:10), and it’s easy to imagine that they were the ones who started the church after returning home to Rome. There can be little doubt that the Roman church had heard of Paul (28:15) and looked forward to meeting him.
One of the great debates concerning the context of the book of Romans is the demographic composition of the Roman church when Paul wrote. Were the members primarily of Jewish background, of Gentile background, or evenly split? Although it is highly likely that the church was founded by believers of Jewish background, Paul seems to suggest that the church was composed primarily of Gentiles (see Romans 1:5–6, 13). The Roman emperor Claudius expelled Jews from Rome about AD 49 (Acts 18:2), which would have resulted in believers of Gentile background coming into greater prominence.
But by the time that Paul wrote this letter, Claudius had died and the expulsion order was rescinded, allowing Jews to return to Rome. How many believers of Jewish background constituted the Roman church is uncertain, but Paul does spend Romans 9:1–11:12 speaking about the nation of Israel. Even so, that section depicts a direct address to Gentiles in 11:13. The weight of the evidence therefore points to a Gentile majority in the church in Rome.
The book of Romans falls into two major sections. The first part, Romans 1–11, features some of the most doctrinally heavy thoughts in all of Scripture. A shift comes with Romans 12–16, which addresses how Christians should then live in light of the truth of those doctrines. Today’s lesson comes from this second section.
I. How to Think
A. About Self (v. 3)
3a. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think. This verse starts with a conjunction by which Paul introduces the logical explanation for what he has already said. The ability to discern the “good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2) begins with the correct thought of ourselves. The word for seems to introduce the way people should think of themselves in the appropriate manner: by being “renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23). Paul is able to offer this imperative because of the grace given to him—an expression he never tires of using (see Romans 15:15; 1 Corinthians 15:10; Galatians 2:9; Ephesians 3:7; 4:7). That phrase establishes his authority as coming from God.
3b. But to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
For a person to think soberly is to think rationally and appropriately (compare Mark 5:15; 2 Corinthians 5:13). Paul introduced the common standard of measurement by which to evaluate oneself: it is the measure of faith. But there is debate over what kind of faith Paul had in mind. The two main possibilities are the “common faith” that every Christian has (see Titus 1:4) and “distributed” faith, which is given for differing capacities for service (see 2 Corinthians 10:13). There are strong arguments both ways. But notice that in either case, the measure is not that of one person compared to another person—the natural and unhealthy tendency.
What Do You Think?
How do you determine whether you think too highly of yourself or underestimate yourself?
How will you use an accountability partner to help consider yourself with sober judgment?
B. About Others (vv. 4–5)
4. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office.
Paul uses this analogy to the human body also in 1 Corinthians 12:12–14 and Ephesians 4:16. It should be obvious that not all parts of the body perform the same function. A hand does not function as an ear and vice versa. We note that the word office is not referring to the offices of elder, deacon, etc. The Greek underneath this word is also translated “deeds” in Romans 8:13 and Colossians 3:9, and that is the sense here.
5. So we, being many, as one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
Paul desired his readers to think in terms of one as a collective singular of many. As Christians cannot serve effectively apart from other Christians, so also one body cannot operate independently of the head, who is Christ. These themes are so important that Paul repeats them in several places (see 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 1:22–23; 4:12, 25; Colossians 1:18, 24).
What Do You Think?
How do you discern your function within the body of Christ that is the church?
How do Ephesians 4:11–16 and 1 Peter 4:10–11 inform your process of discernment?
Trivia question: How many people landed Apollo 11 on the moon in 1969? According to Catherine Thimmesh, the answer is 400,000!
In her book Team Moon, Thimmesh highlights the diverse roles that were essential to the mission. Seamstresses stitched 22 layers of fabric on each spacesuit. Engineers designed an array of systems, which were then built by skilled technicians. Safety inspectors, physicians, mission-control personnel, and others made the mission possible and successful. But as people gathered around their television sets to watch the drama unfold, they saw only three astronauts in space and only two of them land on the lunar surface.
My wife and I used to be missionaries in rural Africa, which in some ways felt like being an astronaut in an unknown world. We also stood in the spotlight as we reported to churches. But when our daughter was born with severe cerebral palsy, our roles changed—we became part of the support team based in the United States.
I’m ashamed to admit that I once thought the overseas missionary role felt more important than the roles of the support team. The accountants, trainers, fundraisers, administrators, and media creators are all members of the same body; if they weren’t essential, they wouldn’t be on the team. Also members of the team are the thousands who pray and donate funds. Which mistake are you more likely to make: overrating your role in the body of Christ or underrating it? —N. G.
II. How to Serve
A. With Well-Defined Gifts (vv. 6–8a)
6. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith.
The echo of 1 Corinthians 12:4–11 is quite strong here and in the two verses that follow (compare 1 Peter 4:10–11). With the word prophecy, Paul begins a list of seven gifts differing, which fall into a group of four and a group of three. The gift of prophecy is also found in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11. Paul prized the appropriate display of this gift (see 1 Corinthians 14).
When we see the word prophecy, we often think of predicting the future (as in Acts 11:28; 21:10–12). But that is not its main impulse in the New Testament era; rather, prophecy more often involves proclaiming information divinely revealed for the church’s edification (compare 1 Corinthians 14:3, 24–25, 30). Moreover, the message of a prophet was evaluated by others having the same gift (14:29–32).
We pause here for a caution: as Paul begins his listing of spiritual gifts, it is tempting to jump in hastily and compile a list of such gifts according to this text and others. But to do so runs the risk of missing the bigger picture. That bigger picture is that spiritual gifts serve as an example of a church that is united in its diversity. Spiritual gifts are not given merely to bless the person receiving the gift, but to build up the church as a whole (Ephesians 4:11–12). Most of all, these gifts are intended to be displays of love between believers (see 1 Corinthians 13).
What Do You Think?
What steps will you take to either (1) discern your spiritual gift or (2) discern how to use your gift for the church?
Who will you ask for insight and guidance in this regard?
7a. Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering.
We move to the second gift in Paul’s grouping of four. The word translated ministry and ministering is also translated “serve” in Romans 15:31, and that is the sense here. “Service” was the usual way to describe the work that Christians did on behalf of others. As Paul uses this word, he can refer to various types of service:
•Christian ministry in general (Romans 15:25; Philemon 13);
•The ministry of Christ (Romans 15:8; Galatians 2:17);
•Specific Christian ministries (Romans 11:13; 2 Corinthians 9:12–13); •Ministry of the office of deacon (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8–13);
•Ministry of a secular authority (Romans 13:4).
Since the other gifts Paul names in our text involve specific functions, he was likely thinking of a specific gift of service that qualified a person to be in the office of deacon.
7b. Or he that teacheth, on teaching.
The gift of teaching is also noted in 1 Corinthians 12:28–29 and Ephesians 4:11. In the text before us, Paul is focusing on he that teacheth rather the gift of teaching as such. Why he makes this switch is unclear. What is clear, however, is that teaching is distinct from prophesying. Prophecy is based on revealing the information that God has placed in the prophet’s mouth; teaching, on the other hand, involves communicating the truth of the gospel (see 2 Timothy 2:2; 3:10).
Teaching was critical for the first-century church, where many people were not formally educated. They learned from auditory instruction rather than reading. Therefore, it was and is a primary task of the eldership (1 Timothy 3:2; 5:17).
8a. Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation.
We come to the fourth gift in Paul’s subgrouping of four well-defined spiritual gifts. He uses the verb translated exhorteth and the noun translated exhortation a total of 80 times across his letters. The ways he uses the verb in 60 occurrences are translated “comfort(eth)” (example: twice in 2 Corinthians 1:4), “beseech” (example: 2:8), or “exhort” (as here). The 20 times he uses the noun are translated “comfort” (example: 1:4), “consolation” (example: Romans 15:5), or “exhortation” (as in this verse).
Putting this all together, we get the idea that Paul is challenging those with this gift to use it in terms of being a bit stronger than merely “requesting” something of someone else but a bit less strong than “commanding” that person.
B. With Less-Defined Gifts (v. 8b–8d)
8b. He that giveth, let him do it with simplicity.
We come now to the first in a subgrouping of three spiritual gifts—gifts that are less-defined than the previous four. To give is to share with another or the church what one has. This is an expectation of all believers (1 Corinthians 16:2). The word translated simplicity occurs eight times in the New Testament, always in Paul’s letters. Its translations in other passages are “liberal(ity)” (2 Corinthians 8:2; 9:13), “bountifulness” (9:11), and “singleness” of heart (Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22). Understanding “simplicity” to reflect “singleness of purpose” seems to be the idea. There are to be no ulterior motives for giving (contrast Acts 5:1–4).
What Do You Think?
In what ways can a believer utilize the gift of giving without always focusing on financial giving?
Who can be the recipient of your nonfinancial giving?
8c. He that ruleth, with diligence.
As with the word translated simplicity (Romans 12:8b, above), the Greek word translated ruleth occurs eight times in the New Testament, always in Paul’s letters. It is used of church leadership (1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 5:17), family leadership or household management (3:4, 5, 12), and self-management (Titus 3:8, 14). The overall idea is that of “one who presides.” To be such a person is to be in control in a godly sense.
8d. He that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.
To show mercy requires both action and a proper attitude. As such, showing mercy involves more than merely offering lip-service sympathy (compare 1 John 3:17–18) or forgiveness. In the Beatitudes, Jesus stated, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
No specific ways of being merciful are listed in the text before us, and Paul seems intentionally to want the general sense. As one who had received mercy, the importance of being merciful was quite personal to him (1 Timothy 1:13, 16). Indeed, the mercy we ourselves have received from God is the basis for our own acts of mercy, as Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant makes clear (Matthew 18:21–35). We see the cheerfulness aspect of showing mercy also reflected in giving (2 Corinthians 9:7), such giving being a specific kind of merciful act.
At this point, this list of spiritual gifts ends. But the very next verse (Romans 12:9) relates love to spiritual gifts in much the same way 1 Corinthians 12–14 does. Love is the touchstone for how any spiritual gift is used.
As we wrap up our consideration of this subgrouping of three gifts, we should consider a possible implication regarding these gifts being less-defined than other gifts. That implication is that these three are expected of all Christians. Think about it: Shouldn’t everyone give with sincerity (2 Corinthians 9:7)? Shouldn’t everyone rule or manage at least his or her own life to keep from being unproductive (2 Peter 1:5–8)? Shouldn’t everyone be merciful (James 2:13)?
What Do You Think?
How might you demonstrate the gift of mercy in the upcoming week?
What might prevent believers from wanting to show mercy, even if they have the gift for doing so?
One of the earliest displays of mercy that I remember came during recess in the sixth grade. As the group played soccer, two kids ran up to the soccer ball and kicked it at the same time. One child lost his balance mid-kick and fell down to the ground. It was truly an accident—and comical at that. But the embarrassed child did not think so. It seemed that he thought that the other child had committed a grievous error. As soon as the child got off the ground, he stormed to the other child and struck him in the face.
However, the hit child didn’t retaliate; he didn’t show any anger or fear. Instead, he just picked up his glasses and kept playing soccer. No fight would occur that day. The coach saw the incident and pulled the other kid off the field to address his behavior. What did that youngster need in that moment: correction or mercy? Maybe he needed both! (Compare and contrast Acts 15:36–40.) Are you in a position of being able to extend mercy to someone else? If so, do so cheerfully! —N. G.
A. All Gifts Matter
We understand that all spiritual gifts are important. But at the same time, we know that not all such gifts are equal (see 1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1) and that not all believers are equally gifted (see Matthew 25:14–15).
As a result, our natural tendency is to pay more attention to the gifts that are more visible, more “out front” to the public. The highly visible preacher of the church usually gets paid more than the less visible custodian who cleans the church. But here’s where Paul’s illustration of body members working together (unity in diversity) comes in per Romans 12:4–5: I don’t think you would want to go to dirty and smelly church any more than you would want to go to a church with a horrible preacher! The functions of one’s hands are much more varied, useful, and visible than are the functions of one’s elbow. But a nonfunctioning elbow will severely limit how the hand can function (compare 1 Corinthians 12:12–27).
Pride is a danger to those having the more visible gifts (see Proverbs 16:18). Also a danger is that those who have the less visible gifts won’t use them, perhaps figuratively “burying” them (Matthew 25:25). But just as no human body functions to its highest potential unless all of its parts work together, so also the church—the body of Christ—does not function at full potential until all of its members use their spiritual gifts. The cure (or preventative) for both pride of gifts and non-use of gifts is Luke 17:10: “So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.”
B. Your Gift(s)?
A popular tool that churches and ministries have turned to since at least the 1980s is a spiritual-gifts assessment inventory. I took several of these inventories (or “tests”) during my time as a student in Bible college and seminary. Most of the time, they told me what I suspected already: that teaching was one of my spiritual gifts.
Occasionally, an inventory would indicate that I had a secondary gift that I didn’t realize. One such result was that I had the gift of administration. I found that to be exceptionally funny, given the reality of the piles of books, articles, and papers piled on my desk, floor, and couch!
This goes to show that these inventories aren’t perfect—they can even be misleading. The axiom caveat emptor (“let the buyer beware”) applies in more ways than one!
An assumption behind those inventories is that helping people identify what their giftings are will mean that those who have been thus enlightened will automatically start using those gifts. But that is not always so. People will need encouragement to use and otherwise develop their spiritual gifts. Sometimes, people need the wisdom and insight of others to help discern which giftings are present.
Another assumption is that such inventories are even needed for people to be able to identify their areas of spiritual giftedness. A more accurate indicator may be personal experience. What types of Christian service do your personal experiences tell you that you have been best at? Where have you fallen flat?
Father, You have called all of Your servants to serve. Help us to realize our gifts and give us the courage to develop and use them for Your glory. Help us to remember that no matter what our gifts are, we are all members of one body, and that no one is unimportant to Your church and to You. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
D. Thought to Remember
Know your spiritual gifts and use them with humility.
Standard Publishing. KJV Standard Lesson Commentary® 2023-2024 (pp. 500-517). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.