In Romans 12:1-2 Paul talks about the Christian’s responsibility to offer their bodies and minds as living sacrifices to God in the light of his mercies. From Romans 12:3 to the rest of the chapter, Paul addresses the Christian’s responsibility to people—both believers and unbelievers.
And in Romans 12:3-8, he addresses our responsibility to humbly use our spiritual gifts to serve one another within the local church. However, before we look at these verses, let us learn 4 fundamental truths about spiritual gifts from 1 Corinthians 12:7, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”
Truth # 1. Every Christian is given spiritual gift(s): “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given.”
Truth # 2. Spiritual gifts are “given” as a gift. They cannot be earned or demanded.
Truth # 3. The Holy Spirit is the giver of spiritual gifts: “the manifestation of the Spirit is given.”
Truth # 4. Spiritual gifts are given for the benefit of others: “given for the common good.”
So, if I were to summarize the truths of this verse, it would be something along this line: A Spiritual gift is a special ability given by the Holy Spirit to every Christian for the purpose of serving others.
And according to Romans 12:3-8, there must be 3 attitudes that should mark Christians as they seek to live out the transformed life in the area of serving one another through the use of their God-given spiritual gifts.
Attitude # 1. Humility [Romans 12:3]
3 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.
When it comes to using spiritual gifts, the fundamental attitude that should mark a transformed life is humility—no room for having a high opinion of ourselves, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.” All of us are indispensable. There is a saying, “God buries his servants and continues with his work!” The graveyard is a proof that God’s church goes on even after God’s people have passed away.
1 Corinthians 4:7 reminds us that all we have is a result of God’s grace in our lives, “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” That’s why there is no room for boasting or developing a sense of superiority concerning our giftedness. All we have is the result of a sovereign God choosing to give gifts to us—for the benefit of others and ultimately for his glory!
Paul is not only calling people to refrain from thinking of themselves more highly than they should, but also think of themselves in the right manner, “think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” We are to think of ourselves in keeping with the faith God has given to each of us.
While we are not to have a high view of ourselves, we are also not called to have an unhealthy view of ourselves which often is a sign of false humility. It’s like the person who went to his Pastor and tried to show off his humility by saying, “Pastor, I feel I’m nothing!” The Pastor who caught the act promptly replied, “Brother, you are nothing! Take it by faith!”
Paul’s point is that we ought to have a right and healthy view of ourselves knowing that all we have is a gift from God! Each believer is a child of God and has been gifted. Our responsibility is to use our spiritual gifts with an attitude of humility. That’s the first and foundational attitude that should mark us as we seek to serve others through the use of our gifts.
Attitude # 2. Unity [Romans 12:4-5]
4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
Not only humility but also an attitude of unity should mark us as we seek to serve others. Even though there is much diversity within the body of Christ, in the final analysis, we are all one body as a result of being united with Christ, and each of us belongs to others. When we remember that truth, we will strive for unity as we serve one another. We need each other just as each member of the physical body needs other members.
Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 12:15-26 Paul uses the physical body to illustrate the point of how within the body of Christ, each Christian needs other Christians and concludes with this important truth, “there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other” [1 Cor 12:25].
The goal should be Bible-based unity. We are one—we hurt together and rejoice together—just like in a human body when one member hurts, the whole body feels the pain and vice-versa. This subject of unity within the body is so important that Jesus himself prayed for our unity in John 17:21, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” Elsewhere in Ephesians 4:3 Paul stressed us to pursue unity through these words, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” It takes an effort to maintain unity within believers.
All of this means, we don’t get jealous of the gifts or recognition that others may receive when they exercise their spiritual gifts. It means we overlook petty issues that can easily threaten the unity within the body. It means we display a patient and forgiving attitude remembering we are all part of one body and each of us is called to benefit others through the use of our spiritual gifts.
Attitude # 3. Faithfulness [Romans 12:6-8]
6 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; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 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.
The list above is not an exhaustive list of all the spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit. Other passages such as 1 Corinthians 12:28-30, Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Peter 4:11 provide more details regarding this subject. The basic idea here is that whatever gift or gifts that the Holy Spirit has given are to be used faithfully by every believer. One cannot bury their gifts nor be lazy when it comes to using them. Gifts are given so that it may be put to use and thus benefit others.
Also, if you look at the list Paul gives in these verses, pretty much everything is required by every Christian according to other passages in the Bible. Every believer is to tell about the Bible to others, serve others, teach others, encourage others, give to others, and show mercy to others. Those with these special gifts are called to do so even more. That’s all!
The issue is to put to use whatever gifts we are given faithfully. If you don’t know what gifts you have, find out where there is a need and simply start serving. Often you will find out that you are gifted in that area. Alternatively, ask others around you. Or find in what areas your heart is tugging you to serve and go do it. God has put the body together in such a way that spiritual gifts don’t need to be hidden, but brought out in public and be put to use.
So, there we have—Humility, Unity, and Faithfulness—the 3 attitudes that should mark us as we seek to live out the transformed life in the area of serving one another through the use of our God-given spiritual gifts.
The key is not to live isolated lives. We cannot use our spiritual gifts in isolation. They are to be used to benefit others. That’s why it’s important to be in a local church and in attendance when the church meets. This not only means on Sunday morning worship service but also on other occasions when the church meets [bible studies, prayer meetings, etc.]. This includes reaching out to other believers outside of church meetings as well. It’s God’s goal that we become Christ-like. And that does not happen apart from community life. We are to practice the one-another commands by using our spiritual gifts appropriately.
Allow me to list a few reasons why many Christians don’t put their spiritual gifts to effective use.
- Pride. “Everything has be my way. If not, I won’t serve.” Or “If I’m not recognized, I won’t serve.” Or even fear of failure, “What if I fail? How will I look before others?” More conscious of what people think rather than what God thinks!
- Laziness. Serving takes effort. Saying “Yes” to God’s work means saying “No” to certain activities. Just come on Sundays and show up is the best I can do is the attitude that sadly marks many professing believers today. Let others who are more gifted do the needed activities. Having gifts does not automatically mean we will use it. We must put forth our full efforts. Laziness seems to be a plaguing sin among believers today.
- Discouragement. Reasons abound. “Not seeing much results. Low turnout. Many things are going on in my personal life. So, I can’t think of others.”
- Misplaced Priorities. Too much time with worldly activities. People have all the energy for Saturday’s activities. However, come Sunday morning, too tired to serve! Or during the week, absolutely no time at all because I’m heavily tied up with so many other worldly activities. Leading busy lives does not always mean being spiritually productive. What are we busy with? “Are they of eternal significance?” is a searching question that needs to be asked by every Christian on a constant basis.
One can always give excuses and convince themselves as to why they are not putting their spiritual gifts to use. But the reality is this: The Lord calls us to deny ourselves and follow him at all times. There is always a cost when it comes to using your spiritual gifts. However, that should not stop us from fulfilling our calling as his children. Saved people serve others! The point is not having impressive gifts. It’s in how we use whatever gift God has given us!
Remember the words of Jesus in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. Each was given different talents: one was given 5, one was given 2, and another was given 1, “each according to his ability” [v. 15]. Those who put whatever they received to good use were commended. The one who did not use what was given to him was rebuked sharply. In fact Jesus’s description of this man is powerful, “You wicked and lazy servant…And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” [Matt 25:26, 30], implying that this man was not even a true Christian. So, the lack of serving cannot be consistent with being a true believer.
On the other hand, when we give ourselves to serving others, we will not only hear one day in the future these words from the lips of our Lord Jesus, “Well done good and faithful servant” [Matt 25:21], but we can also have assurance in the present that our salvation is real!
So, there are severe ramifications to what Paul teaches us regarding the use of our spiritual gifts in this passage. That’s why need to pay close attention. And the cure for using our Holy Spirit given spiritual gift to serve people with an attitude of humility, unity, and faithfulness? We need to keep looking at the cross. Jesus gave himself for us! That should continually motivate us to give ourselves to others.
We have received mercy. Going forward, may this mercy motivate us afresh to use our spiritual gifts in love to benefit others. That’s Paul’s point in Romans 12:3-8. May the Holy Spirit help us to put this into practice.