Why This Lesson Matters?
Literacy rates in the ancient world were quite low. Romans was written by Paul not to be read but to be read aloud to an audience. Paul was writing something analogous to a radio script. Listeners would have heard the word “Amen” conclude Chapter 11, followed by a long pause, and then the word “Therefore.” Many have interpreted Romans 12-16 as a disappointing, anti-climatic ending of moral discourse following the magisterial doctrines of Chapters 1-11. A closer reading suggests something quite different.
In Romans 1:16-17, we learn that the gospel is the “power of God to save…out of faith for faith.” Chapters 1-2 describe the conditions of Gentile and Jew before God. Chapters 3-7 speak of God’s and God’s Anointed One acting “faithfully.” This “Divine Faithfulness” gives rise to, results in, generates, even creates the human response of faithfulness which Paul begins to describe in our text today. Chapters 1-11 are focused on the Divine Faithfulness that generates the human response of faith. Chapter 12 answers the question of what an appropriate response to the mercies of God would be.
The context for the verses we are looking at today is found in Romans 1 with its description of Gentile idolatry. Romans 11 ends with a magnificent Doxology. “Doxology” means “words of glory.” In Romans 1:21, Paul says idolaters did not glorify God. In 1:23, he says idolators had “changed the glory of the incorruptible God into” corruptible earthly beings. As a result of God’s mercy through the faith creating faithfulness of Jesus, idolators who had refused to give God glory now glorify Him.
In 12:1, Paul exhorts Christians to “present you bodies as a living sacrifices.” In 1:24, idolators had misused their freedom in lust and uncleanness which resulted in God turning them over to “dishonor their own bodies.”
In 12:1, Paul mentions “reasoned service.” In 12:3, he directs his audience to “think soberly.” In chapter 1, Paul discusses the loss of reason that accompanies gentile idolatry. In 1:20, idolaters cannot see what is clear to see. In 1:21, their thoughts are vain. In 1:18 and 25, they are caught up in a “lie.” In 1:28, they did not “retain God in their knowledge, and God gave them over to a reprobate mind.”
In 12:3, listeners are told in the context of sobriety to think humbly of themselves because they are not self-made but are who they are through the giftedness of God. In Romans 1:21b-22, Paul speaks of the vanity and self-delusional wisdom idolators possess. Gentile idolaters think too highly of themselves.
THE THRUST OF OUR TEXT IS THAT UNREASONED UNAWARENESS OF GOD AND SELF DESCRIBED IN ROMANS 1 IS REPLACED BY REASONED SERVICE TO GOD IN REALISTIC HUMILITY
In Luke Johnson’s commentary on Romans (Reading Romans [Smyth & Helwys, 2001, 190-191], Dr. Johnson makes the following observations: First, the renewed and transformed mind in 12:2 is “the mind of Christ.” made available through the Spirit. The values and vision of this age are challenged and replaced by the values and vision of the “age to come” made known in Jesus. Second, Paul is acutely aware that the will of God is easily known at the most general level. We know God wants good and not evil. But, when we drill the will of God down to specific actions in concrete and nuanced situations, things get difficult. How am I to behave and what am I to do in this moment of tough decision I face? Now the will of God has to be tested through a process of discernment WITHIN A COMMUNITY OF FAITH. We need all that variety of support within a community.
Is it easier to know or to do the will of God?
How badly do we need a community of faith?
How badly do we need the diversity that exists in a community of faith?
Does the individualism of our culture make it difficult for us to experience life in community?