3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
— Romans 12:3-8, ESV
Once the Holy Spirit is in you, you become a holy and spiritual person. What do holy and spiritual people do? They unite with a holy and spiritual church, they participate in holy and spiritual worship, and engage in holy and spiritual work. Romans 12:1-2 and 12:3-8, respectively, address the members of the church with guidelines for our spiritual worship and spiritual work. Having addressed worship last Sunday, it is time to get to work.
Grace and Work
The wonderful thing about reading any work of Paul is that he never gets over grace. He was a man who once tried to work his way to Heaven. He climbed every rung on the pharisaical ladder. Just when he thought he had reached the top, a blinding light knocked him to the bottom.
The bottom is the place where we find grace. It is the place we go when we are weighed down by our sin, through the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. It is the place we go to sit at the feet of Jesus, first at the cross to die, then to the empty tomb to live as a faithful follower of Christ. It is the place where the burden rolls away, where we begin to walk with God, offering real spiritual worship and spiritual work that really matters for time and eternity. And all the work we will ever do is due to “the grace given to me” by God.
Saving grace and spiritual work go together because it is the grace of God that produces the work we do for Him (ref. Ephesians 2:8-10). Grace transforms you into a spiritual person with the spiritual power to do spiritual work. Grace never lets you get over what God has done for you; therefore, grace gets you to worship, and grace gets you to work, for the Lord.
Faith and Work
The most famous saying about faith and work in Scripture is found in James 2:14-26, which closes bluntly with “faith without works is dead.” Truer words have never been spoken. This explains the sorry state of Christianity today where most people who profess faith in Christ seldom if ever darken the door of a church to engage in spiritual worship and never venture to perform spiritual work.
Paul puts a positive take in his words on faith and works. Writing to real believers, he points out that spiritual work is produced by “the grace given to me … according to the measure of faith assigned by God.” God saved us by grace through faith for work (ref. Ephesians 2:8-10), and faith is how the work gets done.
Faith is a noun and a verb. The noun is found twice in this text and 243 times in the New Testament. “Pistis” means faith, belief, trust. It is a gift from God that saves us and remains in us, much like the Holy Spirit Himself. The verb, “pisteuo,” is found 241 times in the New Testament and means, in the words of the old John Sammis hymn, “trust and obey.” Insert that phrase the next time you quote John 3:16 (see also John 3:36).
Faith is a gift and an assignment. “The measure of faith” mentioned by Paul is a marching order. If God saved you, He saved you to do some work, work that is faithful to Scripture, for Christ and the kingdom of God. We will look at some of these assignments in a moment.
Faith is the ability and the confidence to go to work for God. Once you discover the work God wants you to do, you can do it! This is not positive thinking, but a promise from Scripture. “Let us use them,” Paul said, urging us to employ these grace-based, faith-filled ways to do spiritual work for the Lord.
These seven ways to work for the Lord are referred to frequently, and accurately, as the seven spiritual gifts. Unlike Apostolic or sign gifts, these gifts belong to every Christian of every age. “Grace” is “charis” and “gifts” is “charismata” in New Testament Greek; therefore, every Christian is supposed to be charismatic, which has nothing to do with how you worship but how you work. Spiritual gifts are meant to be open and used to do spiritual work.
“Prophecy” is preaching, taking a revelation from God and bringing it to bear upon the minds and hearts of the people. It is more forth-telling than foretelling, and what we tell forth is the exposition of the inspired and inerrant revelation of God’s word, the Bible. You do not have to be a Pastor to be a preacher, but you shouldn’t be a Pastor without a good measure of the gift of preaching.
“Service” is ministry, any work done on behalf of another to alleviate pain, suffering, or want they may be experiencing. The word used here is where we get our English word “deacon,” and certainly deacons should be the leading ministers of the church. You don’t have to be a deacon to serve others, though.
“Teaching” translates into our word for doctrine, Bible doctrine, of course. Teachers have an intense interest in these things, and the ability to explain them to others. Pastors are supposed to be teachers, as well as those who lead Sunday School classes or small groups. Parents have to rely on this gift to raise their children. Every Christian at every level of maturity ought to be teachers to those still learning to walk with God.
“Exhortation” literally means to stand beside someone and talk. The precise posture and point presented are pivotal. You are not barking orders at someone from behind, nor lecturing them to their face, but talking to them as an equal, as an encourager, to help them is whatever difficulty they may be facing. We all need and need to be encouragers.
“Contribute” is putting your money where your mouth is, by making generous donations to church and charity. It is the duty of all to give, but this gift is generally granted to a few who find themselves adept at generating wealth. Why does God make some wealthy? To give large amounts of it away, of course.
“Lead” is listed near the bottom, for Christian leaders lead from the bottom up, from a servant’s posture and perspective. It is an organizational and managerial gift, much needed, but blessed is the church with far more Indians than Chiefs.
“Mercy” is needed, in the words of Marvin Gaye, when “things ain’t what they used to be.” Mercy is a sweet mixture of love, empathy, understanding, and care. It should arise from every Christians’s heart when we see sin and suffering, and it should offer forgiveness, compassion, and connection to Christ and His church. “Mercy, mercy, me,” we need a lot of this today.
Any Christian can exercise any of these gifts on any given occasion, because these are spiritual gifts, manifested by the Holy Spirit, who lives in you, to make you a spiritual person fit for spiritual worship and spiritual work. Most Christians will find that one or two of these gifts are predominant in them, and find themselves working primarily in those areas. All of these ways to work are important, and none is more important than the other. We are to use them, humbly, as gifts from God to be given to others.
The primary place to do the work is the church, “one body in Christ.” It is a biblical mandate for every Christians to be a member of a body, a local church, and to be active in spiritual worship and spiritual work. It is primarily to “one another” that we preach, serve, teach, encourage, give, lead, and show mercy. Strong is the body where the members come to worship with one another and work on one another.
The church is our workplace. And, the world is or workplace, too. We must reach in, and we must reach out. Sharing the Spirit with those outside the body of Christ is the best way to bring them in. Then, they can saved by grace through faith in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and become true spiritual people engaged regularly in true spiritual worship and true spiritual work.