In 1776, a recommendation was made to a committee consisting of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson regarding the wording of a national motto. The proposed motto was based upon the idea that although America consisted of many states, the states should unite as one. This number of letters in this motto happened to match the number of colonies that would soon become states. Those thirteen letters that would become the national motto of the United States of America was e pluribus unum. It is a Latin phrase which means, out of many, one.
Although 37 additional states and several other territories have now been added, the motto is still the same. The motto now not only signifies the joining of states together to form a “more perfect union” but a multitude of people embracing an ideal and a purpose so much greater than any one individual. That ideal and purpose is the representation of a democratic republic that would not only govern the people, but by represented by the very people who make up the union. It was a grand experiment that has been shaken time and again, but has lasted now for nearly 250 years.
However, realities and ideals are often at odds. Different personalities and differing desires create conflict. And conflict can lead to hostility which leads to a breakdown – not only of unity, but of humanity. We have seen that throughout world history. We have seen that throughout our nation’s history. And we have seen that in our own personal histories as well. And, if conflict and even hostility are a part of humanity, then they are a part of the church, because after all, the church is made up of humans.
Paul’s letter to the Romans has traces of conflict and hostility throughout the letter. The conflict is between mankind and God as well as between humans towards one another. But in Romans 12, Paul calls for unity. That call began with the verses we reviewed last week – to sacrifice ourselves in order to live for God and to have our mind transformed by God.
Living for God is only possible when we yield to the Holy Spirit and that is why this series is now entitled Life in the Spirit.
But the Spirit is not just for one person, He is for all of God’s children (Rom 8.15). And that should affect how the church should respond throughout all aspects of our lives.
So, if we are to live by the Spirit, and the Spirit is given to every one of God’s children, what should the impact really be? Paul’s answer is unity and service. Let’s look at Romans 12.3-8 for further clarity.
We Sacrifice Personally for Unity (Romans 12.3-5)
To what or whom do you belong? Perhaps you belong to a club or civic organization. Perhaps you belong to a church. Perhaps you would even say you belong to God, or to a spouse.
Paul began this part of the letter by effectively stating that we belong to God. We are to sacrifice ourselves because in a sense, we do belong to God – at least from a vertical perspective. But when we seek God and His desires for us, we begin to realize that we belong to one another as well. Paul makes this point clear in verse 5, where he wrote, that we are “members one of another.”
Members – one of another. That sounds like people in harmony, or as the Bible calls it unity. To be united is to be reasonable in our considerations of others. We cannot be united if we are always looking down on others. We cannot be united if we feel we have nothing to offer to others. So, that is how Paul begins this paragraph – don’t think too highly of yourself. We all have different talents and skills. Some are better at one thing and some are better at another. That is how God made us, and we should seek to excel where we can. And, let us remember that apart from God, we are nothing.
That is really the crux of Paul’s argument here. Perhaps you think you are better, but if it was not for the mercy of God (Romans 12.1 referring to 11.30-32), then you would have nothing about which to brag or think of yourself as better. Therefore, as our minds are transformed, we will begin to become more humble and realize that humanly we may think we are superior than others, but from a divine perspective, we are all equals, except for the matter of faith.
And it is faith that brings this humility. And, as Paul wrote, it is God who has granted us that faith and even, the measure of faith which we have. So, as we grow in our faith, we will grow in our understanding of God, and that will change our viewpoint about ourselves and about others – which includes changing our viewpoint in our relationship with others.
That relationship with others is possible because of our relationship with Christ. And, it is in Christ that we are truly members of one another. Romans 12.5 is one of the places we get the term, the Body of Christ. We had an entire series on that idea in 2019, but for now, we just need to see that, like the parts of the body, we are all unique, yet we are all a part of one another – and necessary for the body to function properly. That is the way God designed it. After all, both the physical body and the church were his ideas.
So, we are separate pieces of a singular body. And that means to function at our collective best, we have to sacrifice our own wants and desires for the greater purpose – of which Christ is the head. And this truth leads us to the second part of the equation. We are to sacrifice for the sake of unity, but as we unite, we are to both serve together and to serve one another.
We Sacrifice Collectively to Serve (Romans 12.5-8)
The last few verses in this paragraph focus on how the body of Christ is to respond in unity. Having mentioned the body, Paul now shares tasks that need to be done, and those tasks are meant to largely be accomplished using the gifts that God has given, and really entrusted to us.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul clearly discusses how different parts of the body are designed for different functions. Likewise, the body of Christ is the same. God has given people different gifts to fulfill His mission – including His purpose within and for the Church.
Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 (and continuing through 14) are joined by Ephesians 4 as the key passages related to the gifts imparted by God to His children. These gifts are called spiritual gifts because they are granted by the Holy Spirit to us to use on His behalf. We must note two things.
First, the gifts belong to God. They are called spiritual gifts because they are gifts of the Spirit given to us for the benefit of the Spirit (i.e. God).
Second, God can give the gifts to whomever He wishes. We can desire other gifts (cf. 1 Corinthians 12.31), but they are God’s to give or not to give. However, please note that all children of God (that is everyone who has called on the name of the Lord (Romans 10.13) has at least one spiritual gift.
The gifts mentioned in Romans 12 are prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leadership, and mercy. I will go into these gifts more in Wednesday’s video, but Paul’s point here is not just to mention certain gifts, but to show that we are to use them (v. 6), and to do so without hesitation or reservation.
- Prophets are to speak plainly the message of God.
- Those who serve are to serve eagerly and faithfully.
- Teachers are supposed to teach the doctrines of Scripture.
- Those who exhort (strongly encourage) are to help convince people to do what must be done.
- Givers are supposed to be generous.
- Leaders are supposed to lead with vigor.
- Those who show mercy are supposed to do so cheerfully.
We are empowered by God to do each of these and more. And we serve according to these gifts (and others) in order to build up the church and to let others know the love of God. As we serve God, we do so from the inside out, which will cause others to ask us why we do what we are doing, which then allows us to tell them about God. Remember, as Paul wrote just a couple of pages earlier, faith comes from hearing (Romans 10.17).
Again, this passage is about unity. But it is not about uniformity. Each of us has a gift from God and we are to serve Him according to what He has given. Granted, some gifts are also commands. For instance, we are all to show mercy to others because God has shown mercy to us. However, some people receive a special dispensation of mercy as a gift in order to especially be a blessing to others when they are in need.
And that takes us back to the idea that we are members of the body of Christ, and therefore are members one of another (Romans 12.5). We are unique within the body of Christ, but we are conjoined together for a collective purpose – and that purpose is to serve God and others as a part of fulfilling the Great Commandment of loving God and loving others which includes living out the Great Commission of making disciples.
And that takes us further back to the beginning of this message, which briefly focused on the first part of this sermon’s title – E Pluribus Unum, in Christus. The E Pluribus Unum is on every US coin minted since 1873, when the Coinage Act was put into law. But the words have been on the coins of this nation back to 1795, and some states (e.g. New Jersey) printed the words on coins even before our constitution truly ratified our nation as one (1786).
But the words can be mandated by law and mean nothing to the heart. And that is part of the reason we must add the in Christus. Thus, the full Latin expression is “out of many, one, in Christ.” The people of God throughout history are many, but in Christ we are one. We are one with Him, and we are one with each other.
That is God’s design and that is why we should not think too highly of ourselves. If we are one, then effectively we would be saying that we are better than our own selves. And that is nonsense.
But we find ourselves doing it anyway. Why?
Because we still need to have our mind transformed by God (12.2) and that can only happen when we sacrifice ourselves to live for God (12.1).
What’s Next?: Last week, I asked you to consider the following question:
What is in your life that you need to discard to allow you to be a sacrifice who is living for God?
Perhaps what needs to be removed is thinking more of yourself than you should. Perhaps the comparison game is one you like to play, and perhaps you play it well. But this lesson today is one that should cause a re-examination of that idea. And it should help us to consider the question that I am trying to keep before us. And that question is: Who’s your one? Who is it that God is asking you to contact, to pray for, and to serve, in order that one day soon you can have a conversation with that person about God, invited them to church, or whatever God will ask you to do. So, I encourage you to consider who that person is and begin to pray for the person and for yourself so that you will be ready when the time comes.