For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. - Romans 12:4-8
Have you ever thought about how your body works? Like, truly considered how your body is made up of more parts than you are aware of, and how they all work together to function as one body?
The theme of our youth group’s Winter Camp this year was One. As I was preparing to teach on the idea of being “one body,” I was pretty quickly led to the passage above in Romans 12. Before I even got into the spiritual side of everything, I was pretty blown away by the physical side of it. It’s funny, I took all sorts of anatomy courses in school and felt like I was thinking about this for the first time.
Each part of our body was literally designed to function as it does, and support the overall function of the body in a specific way. So, for example, your feet and your hands were built completely differently. Your feet were designed to do what they do, how they do it; the bones, the muscle, all of it. If your hand decided they wanted to switch places with your feet one day, clearly, you’d have a problem... but the problem would go beyond losing the ability to walk as you once did. Not only are your hands and feet designed for two different functions, but the rest of your body is designed to support them in a specific way. Your ankles, your legs, your hips, your spine - they were all built in you to support the way your feet were designed to function. It all works because each part knows its role, and plays its part to make it work. When one part isn’t or can’t do its job for whatever reason, the whole body is impacted.
This is the picture that Paul is painting in Romans 12 when it comes to spiritual gifts and callings. To set the stage, in chapter 11 he talks about how Israel, though they often wandered from the ways of the Lord, aren’t cast away by Him. Why? Because the gift they’ve been given as His chosen people is irrevocable. And so, in chapter 12, Paul moves into the life application for you and I by giving us three encouragements before getting into the idea of living in our gifts and callings -
Be surrendered to and set apart for the Lord. (v1)
Don’t conform to the world; don’t compromise with the world. (v2)
Be humble; know your position. (v3)
I believe it’s because those three things are foundational, necessary really, to effectively live out our spiritual gifts / calling.
And so once Paul gets into verses 4 - 8, he lays out the physical illustration of how the body works in order to drive home the point that the body of Christ works the same way. We have each been specifically designed to fulfill a role, and to support the body as a whole in that specific role. Our responsibility is to know our role and play our part.
As you know, this is not always the way it happens. The Lord gave me three things that stand in the way of the Body operating as one.
There is a difference between being arrogant in our ability vs. confident in our calling. The easiest way for me to explain this is by example. I know that I know that I know that God called me to lead worship. I also know that I know that I know that it was not because of my ability. God gave me the ability I needed to match the call He placed on my life. To be arrogant in our ability is to have the talent, but not the heart; it places all of the emphasis on us. To live confident in our calling is to know that you have what it takes to play your part, but only because God gave you what you needed for His purposes. This important because nothing will hurt the body like pride.
Important side note here regarding pride - Paul also makes it clear that one part is no more important than the other. Your heart can’t do it what it does for your body without your veins there to transport the blood any more than your pastor can do what he does for the church without the support of those who carry out his God-given vision for the church.
We don’t embrace our gift. Having a gift and letting it sit dormant within you is something that I think breaks God’s heart. He gave it to you because you were specifically designed - by Him - to live it out; to live it out and use it for good and His glory. What I know from personal experience is that true fulfillment doesn’t come until you’re living out your calling. If we don’t embrace our gift, the Body will always be missing part of what it was designed to be, and how it was designed to function. It won’t stop God’s work, but it will certainly hinder your participation in it.
We don’t embrace our gift. Notice the shift in emphasis here...embrace YOUR gift. It can be easy to do, but one of the greatest issues in the church as a whole is individuals who spend their days trying to be something God simply did not design or call them to be. When we try to be what we’re not, we get in the way of others being what they are. For example, let’s say you have two people running a ministry; one is gifted in teaching, one is gifted in administration. If the admin person decides they are going to try to take over the teaching, not only will the admin stuff suffer, but the person who is gifted to teach will not have the space to live out how God specifically gifted them. That's why Paul says, "...exercise them accordingly." The church body - on a micro and a macro level - function best when people are embracing the ways that God gifted them specifically because that’s literally how He designed us to function. Everything suffers when we don’t stay in our own lanes. And again, no one gift is more important than the other. When we get that, some of the pressure to be something we’re not goes away, I think.
When we understand the difference between being arrogant in our ability and being confident in our calling, and learn to embrace our own gifts/calling, not only are we the most useful to the Body, but God is so incredibly glorified.
Be surrendered. Be sold out to Jesus. Be humble. Know your role and play your part. This is what enables our physical bodies to function as one, and this what enables the body of Christ to function as one. This can be a convicting reminder. This can be an encouragement. This can change the game in church and ministry.
If you’re needing God to help you see what He’s specifically designed you to do, ask! The Lord wants to see us live out what He created us to do. Just make sure you’re ready and willing to hear the answer for everything it is… and everything it isn’t.