No Man Is An Island.
With daily indeterminate and unremitting distractions preoccupying us, it seems inevitable that the centrality of Jesus Christ applied in every circumstance in our modern lifestyles would continue to characteristically ebb and flow. This deleterious state was the Apostle Paul’s concern for the Roman believers, as he moved on from his earlier exposition on the theological basis for our salvation to the practical attributes of a life of faith in Christ. He was perfectly aware that cerebral doctrinal knowledge alone cannot and do not shape lives in Christ. In this watershed chapter, he draws us into his homily on the inseparable practical nature of Christian life from her theological moorings.
Paul reemphasised that the gift of salvation was the result of God’s mercy to sinful humanity, which predictably turned away His eternal wrath towards us (c.f., Rom 1:18-19), and the only appropriate outcome of such divine grace is a worshipful and sacrificial response to offer ourselves (i.e., our bodies and minds) to Him, Who was THE definitive sacrifice on the cross. In this ‘death,’ we are to turn away from the relationships and significances offered by contemporary society, and to decisively give ourselves to the ongoing patient restorative and transformative work of God in our lives (Rom 12:1-2). The imperative here is due largely to the changed basis of our identity in Christ, as we reset our minds from worldly temporal issues to the things that are eternal and incorruptible (1 Cor 9:24-27; c.f., Col 3:1-11). And in this respect, only the eye of faith fixed unwaveringly on Christ would enable us to grasp and keep constant before our mortal existence the eternal goal of God (Heb 12:1-2; Eph 1:9-10).
The Apostle then confronted the believers to judiciously think (‘think’ mentioned 4 times, including the same Greek root for ‘sound judgment’) of themselves in relationship within ‘a single body.’ In any culture that prides itself in its individualism, to live a shared life with others who are not even biologically related to us calls for a radical mindset change; otherwise, the term ‘brothers and sisters in Christ’ is just a label and have no significant meaning. Closeness in body life invariably breeds a level of undue influence, a loss of personal identity and privacy, entailing frustrations of individualised goals and personal projects, and probably periods of psychological discomfort. The reality of body life is a coherent divine intent from time immemorial; where Christ is the triumphant head of the Body, the Church (Col 1:17-18). Hence, in our service to God, distinctions based on education, power, race, status, and wealth or any other criteria are immaterial, as the divine gauge is based on each person’s giftedness (by God). And his gift(s) are to be used complementarily, with diligence, liberality and cheerfulness in the service of others (Rom 12:3-8). Therefore, prejudice, pride and entitlement are incontrovertibly out-of-place as we serve in God’s community; where every single member within the body of Christ is an essential part of His body, and called to serve with humility and faithfulness. It stands to reason then that withholding the exercise of one’s gift(s) or excluding someone from his or her use of God’s gifting will hurt the church, as she is a spiritual living ‘organism’ (c.f., 1 Cor 12:12-27).
Paul’s final exhortations consisted of advisories dealing with a host of relational issues within the body, and with others, external to the faith community. Love was again Paul’s focus here (c.f., Rom 8:35-39): love is to be each believer’s foundational approach to God and to fellow members in the body of Christ. The quality of our love (i.e., agape; Rom 12:9) parallels that of the Father towards His Son, and Jesus’ love for us (John 3:16), and because it is agape, this love is consequently not of human origin; it has to be God loving others wholeheartedly and impartially through us! Paul listed that at a human level, ‘philadelphia’ – a brotherly affection (love) and kindness, is to be practiced among all believers (Rom 12:10-13). And he also included those who are our enemies and evil men, as the practice of love is comprehensive (Rom 12:14-21). To daringly love evil men will stretch us, but like all whom we love, the test is, are we willing to unconditionally love and leave love’s outcome wholly to God?