Epistle of Paul to the Romans 12: 5-8 (NIV)
5 … in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
The Apostle Paul wrote this letter “to all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (Romans 1: 7). These “saints” were both Jews and Gentiles. The Apostle emphasised that all, including the saints in churches elsewhere around the Mediterranean, formed one body and each member of the Church belonged to all the others.
In this letter, as in his letters to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul used the human body to describe the organic nature of the Christian Church. Just as the body has many parts and just as all parts must work together in harmony for the effective functioning and overall health of the entire body, so it is with the Church. The interdependence of all members of the Church requires that each member contributes to the effectiveness and well-being of the whole.
Perhaps to announce that “each member belongs to all the others” was radical in Paul’s time. Today some in the West would find it radical. In the kind of society where the “rights” or “entitlements” of the individual are afforded precedence over what is needed for a cohesive and interdependent community, the notion of “belonging” to others in the community is foreign. Paul’s earlier injunction, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (12: 2) is valid today.
So was Paul’s message only for the Christian Church?
He expected that the Church would demonstrate this model to the world. This model would be seen to be beneficial both to individuals within the community of faith and to the community of faith as a whole. The world would observe the Church and, desirably, would follow its example.
Rather than an individual’s gifting being principally for the benefit of that individual, the gifts are intended for the benefit of the community. From the examples Paul has given (prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing to the needs of others, leadership or showing mercy), we could consider two: serving and leading.
The server is not necessarily a servant nor a slave but one who has the ability and skills to recognise the needs of others and to contribute. Declining to use this ability, withholding these skills for selfish reasons or in order to extract personal gain is contrary to the way of God. The leader is to govern diligently, to exercise stewardship wisely, to ensure matters of governance are attended to. The one with a gift of leadership has no licence for exploitation or tyranny.
The Church’s example to the world is to be beyond reproach if we hope to be agents for change in a world that chooses increasingly to ignore Jesus.