Romans 12:3-5 A Humility that Promotes Unity (Rev. Erik Veerman)
Rev. Erik Veerman
A Humility that Promotes Unity
This morning, we’ll be considering Romans 12:3-5. You can find that on page 1126 in the pew Bibles.
This is a continuation of our short series in Romans 12. We’re getting into the heart of the chapter. It relates to us together, our relationships with one another and service in the church.
Please stand for the reading of God’s Word.
Reading of Romans 12:3-5
The big news over the past few weeks has been the passing and legacy of Queen Elizabeth II – the queen of England. She was the longest serving monarch in their history. And as you’ve heard over and over, she was faithful, kind, and gentle – a true example to follow.
One of her former bodyguards shared a story that happened a few years ago. He was on a long walk with the Queen near her estate in Scotland. They happened to come upon 2 American hikers. These guys didn’t recognize the queen and she didn’t tell them who she was. She was dressed in casual attire and a scarf for the hike. They had a nice conversation. The Americans asked them where they were each from. The queen replied that she had a holiday home in the area but mainly lived in London. They asked how long she had been coming up to the area, to which she replied, “for about 80 years since I was a little girl.”
“Oh, you must have met the queen, then,” one of them responded.
Her majesty came back, “I have not met the queen, but he has multiple times,” pointing to her bodyguard.
They then asked him what she was like. He responded, “oh she can be a little cantankerous at times, but she has a lovely sense of humor.”
The Americans then handed the queen one of their cameras, asking if she would take a picture with this guy who has met the queen. After all he had me the queen. So she did, and then her body guard insisted that he take a picture of them with her.
They all went on their merry way. I wonder if they ever realized who she really was.
She never said, “don’t you recognize me, I’m the queen.” She wasn’t stand-off-ish or prideful because of her position. No she had a sweet and humble sense about her. Here are some quotes from recent articles written about her:
•Queen Elizabeth II – A figurehead of such dignity, grace, humility, and faith
•One author wrote: “Elizabeth’s humility was her ‘real strength’”
•Here’s another: “Queen Elizabeth has shown selfless humility, grace, and loyalty”
•“Her majesty was an incredible humble woman at heart”
•And finally: “She had a humble, down to earth demeanor”
Perhaps her humility came from her belief in Christ and His Word, I don’t know. But we certainly could say she modelled Romans 12:3, not thinking of herself more highly than she ought, but rather with sober judgment.
That phrase in 12:3 is a good definition of humility. Biblical humility is… having a perspective of ourselves that we are helpless without God and his grace. It means in our relationships with others, we give deference, and are gentle and respectful, lifting each other up, not arrogant or prideful, but kind and caring.
And the humility that Romans 12:3 speaks of, should be the foundation of our relationships and our work together. It all begins with humility. Let me say it in a different way. Unity in relating to one another and unity in serving alongside one another begins with humility. Humility is an essential ingredient in the unity of the church – the body of Christ.
That’s what these verses are about.
And let’s look at them in three parts.
1. A Humble Example – the Apostle Paul begins with himself.
2. A Humble Appeal – There’s a clear admonition here.
3. A Unifying Reason – We’re not just given a charge, we’re given a reason. And it’s a beautiful one.
So, an example, an appeal, and a reason.
1. A Humble Example
So first, Paul references himself as a receiver of what he is about to exhort them. He says, “for by the grace given to me, I say to you.” In other words, I have received a humility beyond human reason or logic. It has been and continues to be a grace in my life. It’s a blessing. And I want you to have that same humility.
Listen, Paul had everything to boast about. He was a Roman citizen. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews, from the tribe of Benjamin. He was well educated - trained at the feet of Gamaliel, the top Jewish scholar of the day; Fluent in several languages. He had been a pharisee of pharisees. Yet, as he says in his letter to the church in Philippi, he counted it all as rubbish compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.
It’s not that the apostle didn’t have convictions. He certainly did. But his disposition towards others was kind and his view of himself was modest.
For him it all started at his conversion. You may know the story well. He was on the road to Damascus seeking to persecute believers of Jesus. And a bright light blinded him. God humbled him. He fell to the ground, as God called out to him. And he believed.
Just like Paul, our coming to faith in Christ is at its foundation an act of humility before God. We submit ourselves to God. When we do so, we recognize him as our creator, as our Lord, and as our Savior. We are nothing apart from him. That’s what happened to the apostle Paul in a radical way. And he calls the humility he received “grace.” The Greek is Xaris. The gift of faith from God to him.
And God gave him wisdom, and knowledge and passion. But he attributed all of it to God. And Paul was intensely relational. The love he displayed to all believers and churches was so apparent. That is very clear in the opening and closing greetings in his letters. There was no one that he considered himself superior to, whether a prisoner, slave, woman, child, or whatever background.
Culturally, his humility was radical. In the broader Greco-Roman world, humility was not a virtue. In fact, it was considered shameful to be humble. If you displayed humility towards someone who had a similar or lower class status, you were unethical. There was no category for humility in the lists of virtuous characteristics.
Today, humility is more appreciated. There’s even a trend among business executives to be humble and approachable.
But not so back then. Paul’s humility was radical, and so he began his exhortation with the example of his life. A humble example.
2. A Humble Appeal
And that brings us to his appeal. This is point #2. Paul’s appeal to the church in Rome. You could say, his humble appeal to be humble.
And the church in Rome especially needed to hear this. The church was very diverse. In chapter 16, Paul greets many in the church. Their names indicate their different backgrounds and cultural status. Some had Greek names, some Jewish names, others Roman names. The list references believers from Asia minor as well. And some names indicated aristocracy, like “Herodian.”
Even though they were all from the Mediterranean region, each came with cultural expectations and different ways they expressed themselves. Plus, they were from different segments of the population. Even thought they were all Christians, it would be easy to misunderstand or presume or get frustrated at each other. They would also be tempted to think their cultural background or status was superior to other people in the church. The apostle Paul knew this, and he wanted to be really clear. In regard to the church, it didn’t matter who you were or where you came from, you were called to be humble. The church in Rome needed that exhortation.
Look at that phrase, “I say to everyone among you.” The emphasis in the Greek is on each and every. Leaders, servants, young, old, new believers in Christ, mature believers. There’s not a single person in this room that this doesn’t apply to.
“Do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought.” Rather, “think of yourselves with sober judgment.” Remove any sense of pretense about who you are because of your family, your occupation, your education, your hometown, your role in the church, your age, whether you are married or not, your ethnic background, your neighborhood, how much money is in your bank account. Don’t elevate your worth and value above anyone else. No, rather with thoughtful, level-headed sobriety, consider each-and-every other person as made in the image of Christ and as either a fellow Christian OR someone who needs the saving grace of Christ.
One of the greatest theologians in the history of the church was Augustine. He served as a leading bishop in the church back in the 4th century in northern Africa. He described the importance of humility this way “For those who would learn God’s ways, humility is the first thing, humility is the second thing, and humility is the third thing.” Augustine saw humility as a vital characteristic of the Christian faith, from which flowed all others.
Have you every prayed that God would humble you? It’s a dangerous prayer, isn’t it! Because if God answers that, how will he humble you?
A few years ago, I remember praying that God would humble me. And I remember being surprised that God actually answered it. I mean, no one wants to learn life lessons the hard way, but when it comes to humility, it often requires God humbling you in painful ways, showing you that you are not worthy of higher honor or status than anyone else. Without sharing the details, I’ll just tell you that the process of being humbled was painful and difficult, but it was a sanctifying work in my life.
If you are humbled in some way, the question is, will you cooperate with what God is doing? In those difficult times, whatever it is, will you grow in humility? You see, our natural sinful tendency is the opposite. When hurt or humiliated or shamed, we can become bitter, envious, insecure, or defensive. But instead, we should humble ourselves before God and before others.
Would you heed the call of Romans 12:3 to think of yourself with sober judgment? Would you pray that God would humble you? Would you pray that God would deepen your understanding of his undeserved grace your life? … just like the grace that he gave the apostle Paul.
Before we look at verses 4 and 5, there a phrase at end of verse 3 that is difficult to interpret. It says, “according to the measure of faith given to you.”
You may have wondered what that means. So have I! So, let’s take a brief couple of minutes to analyze it.
The reason it’s difficult to interpret is because that word “faith” can mean different things in the Scriptures. It can mean saving faith – you know, the saving faith you have in Christ, when you came to faith. But it can also mean the level of trust you have in God. Like the call to grow in your faith… grow in your hope… grow in your reliance upon God… seeking to mature in your trust of God. That kind of faith is about the maturity of your walk with the Lord.
But look at the phrase, again. It says, “according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” The word “measure” in English seems to indicate that we are each given different levels of faith. Well, that reading seems to indicate that the faith mentioned is a sanctifying faith, not saving faith. However, some have pointed out that word “measure” in Scripture does not usually mean a different amount, rather it means “fulness.” So the “fulness of faith that God has assigned.” With that reading, it would be saving faith that Paul is talking about.
Those are the main two interpretations. The difference is this: The first interpretation means that as you grow in your faith, you should become more humble. The second is that you should be humble because of the saving faith that God has given you. Which is it? I’m not exactly sure, but I lean toward seeing it as saving faith. In other words, be humble because of the fulness of the saving faith that God has assigned… or that God has given you. That interpretation also ties nicely back to the beginning of verse 3. The grace given Paul is similar to the grace given you. And a couple verses later in verse 6. That same phrase “according to” is used, but with the word “grace.”
Regardless of which interpretation is correct, it doesn’t change the appeal. Either way, God calls each and every one of us to humility.
3. A Unifying Reason
So, the first point was A Humble Example – the apostle’s own humility because of the grace given him. The second point was A Humble Appeal. The call to humility.
That brings us to point 3: A Unifying Reason.
Verses 3 and 4 answers the question, “why?” Really, I would say, this is a mix between the reason and the result. You see that word “for” (f-o-r) right at the beginning of verse number 4. That’s similar to the word “because.”
Here’s the whole thing: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”
This is so rich. Really, over the next 2 weeks, we’re going to see this applied in 2 ways. First, in the different spiritual gifts we are each given. And second, in the love and care of one another to which we are called. Stay tuned for those.
But these two verses, 4 and 5, are the foundation. The analogy is of a body. You’ve probably heard that phrase a lot, “the body of Christ.” It means the true church. We are members together in Christ’s body. That word “body” is referencing someone’s physical body. And it’s a metaphor. It’s saying, just like your body is made up of different parts, and each has a different function, so it is with the body of Christ.
Kids! I want you to think of the different parts of your body. What are these? (waving my hands) Hands! You have eyes. A brain. (although sometimes I wonder if teenage boys have a brain! I wonder if I did back then) Feet to move around. What else? Ears to hear. A mouth to talk. A nose to smell. Yeah, all of those. The adults here have a little more knowledge of what’s inside of you that makes those things work. Like your nervous system, which coordinates your movements and allows you to feel pain. You have your heart which pumps blood throughout. It brings energy and nutrients to your muscles and organs. You have your digestive system which processes the food you eat and turns it into either energy (or waste).
And think about how the different parts of your body work together. Your eyes and your hands. Your ears and your mouth. Think about how your brain and heart and nerves work together to keep you alive and animate all your parts.
It's quite amazing how God made us, isn’t it?!
And what these verses are saying is that the church is like a body. Each person has a different function or role in the church. Each part of the body of Christ works together. Each serves in a different way. We each, in the body of Christ, support each other in different ways. Each role serves a purpose. Next week we’re going to talk about the different gifts that God gives his people, you, to serve the church. But the broader point is that the parts of the body, of the church, work together. Each is an indispensable part.
You say, “but how does this all relate to humility?”
Well, God is saying through the apostle Paul that humility is the essential ingredient. We all need to have humility to see that we each play an important role. The gifts and responsibilities we are given in the church are different, but we are each brothers and sisters in Christ, each serving alongside one another, and each building up his body and giving God the glory.
Humility promotes unity in the church. When God’s people are humble, we serve well alongside one another.
To be sure, this applies beyond just the workings of the church to fulfill the mission of the church. This applies to marriages. A husband and wife may have different roles, but a unified marriage requires the man and woman to humbly serve and listen to one another. This applies to other family relationships - brothers and sisters, children and parents. When we have a humble disposition toward each other in a family, God unites us closer together.
Let’s focus in on verse 5 for a moment. It says, “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Many but one. Individual parts but one body. Diversity but unity.
Really these three verses are full of this theme. The many and the one. The many: “everyone among you,” “members,” the word “individually,” and the word itself “many.” But also the idea of togetherness. The phrase “one body” is used twice, and verse 5 ends with “members, one of another.” We are all individuals, you and me, but we are one body together.
But where does that unity come from? What is the glue that unites us? What is the tie that binds?
Well, it’s right there in the middle of verse 5. We are “one body in Christ.”
Through saving faith in Christ, God’s Spirit unites each of us to Jesus. And in that uniting to Christ individually, we are united together in him. Sometimes we use the phrase “union with Christ.” Or the Westminster confession uses the word “ingrafting.” We have been grafted into Christ. And through that union with him… we reap all the benefits of Christ in his life, ministry, death, and resurrection. In our suffering, we suffer in Christ and have his strength. Our death is now hidden in Christ’s death. And through his resurrection, we will be resurrected. That’s what Romans 6:5 tells us. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” The benefits of our union with Christ are literally immeasurable. And one of the great benefits is our union together.
We are united together, one to another, in Christ. We are one body in Christ. One body, many members, one to another in him.
As we come to a close, here’s where I want to tie this unity all back to humility. The unity that we have together in Christ, is a unity that is founded on humility. It’s Christ’s humility that has made our unity in him possible!
We read the beginning of Philippians 2 early in our service. It has a very similar emphasis to Romans 12. It says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” It goes on to describe that humility more, but then it lays down the foundation of our humility. It is Jesus. Christ’s humility is the foundation and model of our humility.
It says, “though [Christ] was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” What that means is that when Christ became man, he set aside the external display of God’s glory in him, by becoming a man. He didn’t set aside his nature as God, rather, his glory was veiled in the incarnation.
Philippians 2 goes on, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
The ultimate display of humility is the cross of Christ. The ultimate model for our humility is the cross of Christ. The ultimate source of our humility is found in the cross of Christ. And the ultimate reason for our unity is the humility of the cross of Christ.
The humility that promotes unity is the humility of Christ.
If the God of the universe humbled himself for you, how much more so should you humble yourself before one another? May we be humble people united in heart and soul, lifting each other up as one body in Christ, for his glory, not ours. Amen