One of the basic lessons of Biblical interpretation is that when you see the word “therefore” you are to ask, “What is the ‘therefore’ there for?” Often it refers back to something specific that has just been said. However, in Romans 12:1 the “therefore” refers back to the whole of the previous eleven chapters. In Romans 1-11, Paul taught theology. He proclaimed the good news of God’s mercies for the ungodly – the good news that the one who is righteous-by-faith-in-Jesus will live. This gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. But Romans 1-11 was not a kind of textbook on theology. Paul was seeking help from the Christians in Rome. So Paul explained this gospel in such a way that the Christians in Rome might enthusiastically embrace the mission that he wanted to do next. Having done this for eleven chapters, now Paul says, “therefore,” – he says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God”! “Therefore” doesn’t just point us back to what he has said before but we now want to know “therefore what?” When we hear “I appeal to you therefore” we are to ask: “What is it that Paul is appealing to them to do?” He has laid down a theological foundation for what he wants to ask the Christians in Rome and now He will begin to ask. In other words, Paul has explained the theology for eleven chapters and now “therefore” moves us to the application of that theology. It is the same thing that we do with Scripture ourselves: we seek to understand what God is saying and then we want to know how to apply His word to our lives. It may be that the application is a change in attitude, it may be a change in outlook, it may be something we can do, it may be very specific or it may be more general. In any case, whatever God asks of us today through Scripture is in some way analogous to what he was asking of those to whom the words were written first. But Paul is not inviting the Christians in Rome to some kind of vague and general application of the truths that he has gone to great lengths to explain. Instead, Paul is inviting them to work with him on God’s mission to people that sophisticated Romans thought of as backwards barbarians. Paul begins to ask for their help saying:
- We have experienced the mercies of God, therefore our rational worship is to present our bodies for mission to the world.
- Paul was asking the Christians in Rome to offer their bodies for a mission. He did not demand by way of command that they do so. Rather he urged them or appealed to them by the mercies of God – mercies that they had experienced as ungodly Gentiles – to present their bodies as a sacrifice, living, holy, and acceptable to God. To present their bodies as a sacrifice he says is their spiritual worship – not spiritual in the sense of other worldly, but the Greek word he used here is logikos from which we get the English word logic: logikos means rational or reasonable. Both Jewish and Gentile philosophers had been discussing the nature of rational worship. Greco-Roman philosophers thought of rational worship in terms of the individual. Paul, however, envisions rational worship as church communities committed to cross-cultural world mission. This is why he says, “present your bodies (plural) as a sacrifice.” Paul’s whole missional aim was to bring all nations into this right and rational worship. He saw himself as a kind of priest so that the Gentiles would be a sacrificial offering, living, holy and acceptable to God (cf. Romans 15:15-16). He saw the Gentiles glorifying God for His mercy (cf. Romans 15:9-11). Your (plural) rational worship is for redeemed communities to glorify God for His mercies by presenting your bodies for world mission. Paul expands on this rational worship in the second verse. He told the churches in Rome not to be conformed to this aeon – this world-age – but to be transformed by the renewal of your (plural) mind (singular) that by testing you may discern what is the will of God – good, acceptable and perfect. He is not speaking of individual minds but the mind of the churches in Rome. These Christians in Rome remember what happened when they were evangelizing among the Jewish people and how the unrest led the emperor to expel all of the Jews from Rome. You might think it reasonable for a church to fear that cooperating with Paul in his new missionary endeavour might lead to troubles with the Roman government. But Paul says their reasonable worship of presenting their bodies as a sacrifice is not to be conformed to this world-age, but for their renewed mind to discern what it is that God wants the churches to do – to discern God’s mission for them. Paul is suggesting that the Christians in Rome had experienced the mercies of God, therefore their rational worship is to help with Paul’s next missionary journey.
- You too have experienced the mercies of God toward the ungodly because you are considered righteous by faith in Jesus, therefore our rational worship is to offer our bodies for cross-cultural world mission. Americans tend to read these verses individualistically rather than corporately, but again the transformation that Paul wrote about is a corporate transformation. As a church and together with other churches we are not to be conformed to this world-age, but instead to be transformed by the renewal of our mind that by testing we can discern God’s will for us. God’s will for the Christians in Rome may have been to join Paul in mission to those they disparaged as barbarians living in the western Mediterranean, but we have to discover where it is that God wants us to reach out in cross-cultural world mission. So the application of these two verses to us today is that our church is to be a community committed to cross-cultural world mission in some place. I say this not as a command, but rather by the mercies of God let me urge you to present our bodies as a sacrifice for this mission. This is our rational worship.
- Therefore we are to use our gifts for mission.
- Paul stresses how the Romans were to work together to discern and do God’s will. We are one body in Christ and individually we are members one of another. Yet not every part of the body has the same function. He mentions seven gifts found among the people in the congregations at Rome. In no particular order he begins with prophecy, which was important at the time since Scripture was not yet complete in order for them to discern God’s will. Then he mentions service or ministry, which is probably the gift of being a deacon – especially the organizing and providing for the material needs of the church. Also, teaching which is important to discern God’s will from Scripture. Then there is the gift of exhortation, which has the connotation of comforting or encouraging. The next gift he mentions is contributing, that is to be done in generosity – which has the connotation of sharing without ulterior motives. The sixth gift listed is that of leading, a gift that is recognized by others because this person actually is entrusted with authority to do so. And the seventh gift Paul lists is doing acts of mercy, which would include things like visiting the sick and caring for the elderly. These are some of the gifts that would have been found in the local congregations at Rome. Each member then was to work together to discern and do God’s mission.
- Today we too are to use our gifts for mission. You do not all have the same function for you have different gifts. You may have gifts for encouraging or comforting, you may have gifts for contributing, you may have gifts for doing acts of mercy, you may have gifts for being a deacon or a leader, or you may have gifts for teaching. Everyone among us ought not to think of him or herself more highly than he or she ought to think. But we are to work together to discern where God is calling us to serve in cross-cultural world mission and to do it. Everyone has a role to play. This is our rational worship. Therefore we are to use our gifts for mission. May God get the glory! Amen!