The Twelfth Sunday After Trinity August 29, 2004
27, 767 (TLH alt: 464), 400, 764 (TLH alt: 410)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
In Christ Jesus, who gives our gifts to us and whom we serve by faithfully using those gifts—dear fellow-redeemed:
Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had children and Hannah did not. Hannah longed to have a child because she cherished what a blessing a child would be. So Hannah fervently prayed for a child and on one occasion she vowed: “O Lord of hosts, if You…will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life…” (1 Samuel 1:11).
The Lord gave Hannah a son and she named him Samuel. After Hannah had weaned Samuel, she brought him to the tabernacle and said, “For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition which I asked of Him. Therefore I also have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the Lord.” (1 Samuel 1:27-28).
Hannah desired a child so much and yet she promised to return the child to the Lord and His service. Looking at this from shallow human understanding it was silly. Why would you long for something, receive it, and give it right back? By giving Samuel to the Lord Hannah was not losing her son, but enhancing the blessing. Now that precious gift of a child would also be one who would serve the Lord all the days of his life as a prophet and as a judge.
We have been given a tremendous blessing in our life—physical life, the life of the forgiveness of sins, the life of salvation, and the life of eternity with God. We have this tremendous gift of life and belong to God because of Jesus’ redeeming work. Paul told the Corinthians that we are not our own for “…you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:20).
Because we belong to God, He desires that we glorify Him in how we live, in what we do, and in everything about us. Just as Hannah had been barren without children and received a son, so we were barren in our sins with no ability to serve God. By giving our lives back to God we are not losing the lives He has given us. Rather, the blessing is enhanced because of the joy of service—the joy of having this life as a gift from God which we gladly and willingly give back to Him out of joy and thanksgiving. Let us hear and heed the encouragement from the apostle Paul to PRESENT YOUR LIFE TO GOD I. Transform it II. Evaluate it III. Use it.
The Old Testament sacrifices were many and varied. All of these sacrifices were dead sacrifices. The priests slaughtered the animals and offered them on the altar to God. They were also dead sacrifices because they were pictures of Jesus’ death for our sins. Jesus had to die in order to be our Savior. So, the picture of Jesus’ sacrifice also had to die.
We no longer need death sacrifices because Jesus came and died once for all. Our sins are washed away. There is no more blood that needs to be shed for our sins—it’s finished! (cf: John 19:30). Now, we have the opportunity to present living sacrifices. Paul wrote, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice…” [v.1]
Our bodies and lives and everything about them are living sacrifices, not just because we are alive, but because as living sacrifices they are ongoing and all-inclusive. These living sacrifices to God include our entire life and being. Just as every living thing grows, so too our sacrifice to God grows. We don’t want the giving and presenting of ourselves to God to stay “this size.” We want it to grow and keep on living and expanding.
The motivation that Paul uses to encourage us is “by the mercies of God.” In two verses preceding this section, Paul told the Romans, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! … For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33,36). Then Paul says, “Therefore—because this is true, because God is God of all who has dominion over all things, because He is the one who by His wisdom, knowledge and mercy has redeemed you—Therefore, because of who He is, “present yourselves living sacrifices…holy acceptable to God which is your reasonable service” [v.1]
We are able to present ourselves “holy and acceptable” to God because of the change that Christ has accomplished in us. Paul, writing to the Corinthians says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:7). The “new creation” that loves to do the Lord’s will is the part of our lives that is a living sacrifice to God.
In order to present this “new man” as a living sacrifice to God, Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed” [v.2] We need transformation before we could ever hope to present our bodies and lives as living sacrifices. Our sinfulness leads us to use our gifts and every bodily effort for sin and the self-satisfaction of pursuing our sinful lusts. Earlier in Romans Paul said, “…as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness” (Romans 6:19).
Let it no longer be what it used to be! Don’t use your power, your energy, your gifts, your abilities for sin and your own selfish desires but transform into using those things for righteousness. Stop being conformed to this age and the things all around you. Present your life to God. You can’t do this if your life is looking like the world because the world is opposed to God.
It is so easy to conform and want to conform to the world. We are daily tempted to pursue the things the world pursues. We are tempted daily to act like the people around us when they are following selfish desires and sin. We’re told again and again and in so many ways that we should satisfy ourselves: “Do whatever you think is right…pursue your own ambition.” However, our ambitions are tainted by sin. Do not be conformed to this world but transformed by the renewing of your mind through Christ Jesus.
As we evaluate ourselves for that transformation and stand guard against conformity with the world, we are given an opportunity to “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” [v.2] As we transform and testify to the righteousness of Christ, we are proving who God is. We are declaring Him to the world. People can look at you and say, “There is someone who claims to be a child of God and I know why—because he is different than everything I see in the world.” As children of God we have a whole different “being” with a completely different outlook. It becomes a blessing to testify to our Savior by the transformation which He accomplishes in our hearts through the working of His Holy Spirit.
Thus transformed with a desire to serve God, the next part of presenting our lives is evaluation. Paul says, “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” [v.3]
From this point through the rest of the text, Paul is speaking very individually—to each of us personally. Paul encourages us toward individual evaluation because it is your life that you are presenting to God. The first step of this is to see yourself for what you are.
“…not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.” By nature we think pretty highly of ourselves. We take confidence in what we can do. We’re quick to be tempted toward pride which leads to arrogance. The world teaches us to look out for ourselves. This is not what Jesus did when He came to die on the cross. Using Jesus as an example, Paul encouraged the Philippians, “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).
Paul also ties this “looking at yourself” to faith. “…not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” Paul tells us, “Look at yourselves spiritually. Evaluate your soul’s condition. Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought to think saying, ‘I am strong in the Lord. I have nothing to be concerned about.’ You do stand strong in the Lord but he who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Evaluate yourself, see yourself spiritually as needing the Lord and not as someone who has accomplished something with nothing more to do.
“Do not think more highly of yourself than you ought to think but soberly…” Don’t let your evaluation go beyond what is real, wildly imagining yourself to be what you are not. But sober-mindedly, evaluate yourself. See the gifts that God has given you and the strengths, but also know your own frailties.
Another area in which we need to evaluate ourselves is in how we use our lives. Paul continues, “For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” [vv.4-5]
Not thinking more highly than we ought to think includes not thinking that we are “it.” God says you are “part.” You as an individual are one part of the whole body of Christ’s Church. A biblical commentator put it this way: “All men are soloists by nature, they must learn the art of playing in God’s orchestra.” [Martin Franzmann, Romans, CPH] Paul instructs Corinthians in the same way as the Romans when he says, “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually” (1 Corinthians 12:12,27).
If I am evaluating my life as one part in the whole group of Christ’s Church that means whatever I do affects others because it is no longer I standing alone and I’m not an island. I am now working with you, serving with you, rejoicing with you in our salvation.
Paul says, “…having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us…” [v.6] Paul does not say, “If you have gifts…” He says, “Having gifts…” You are an individual in the body of Christ with a purpose and a role, and for that purpose and role God gives you gifts. There is not a single individual who does not have gifts from God to use in your role in the body of Christ. They are differing gifts—differing gifts according to the grace of God, differing gifts according to ability, differing in type, differing in amount, but you all have them. God says, “Each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that” (1 Corinthians 7:7).
Present your life to God, evaluating yourself, not thinking more highly than you ought to think, seeing yourself as an individual in a larger body with a role to play and knowing that you have gifts which you can use in that role. When you have reached that evaluation, then God says, “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10).
When you have evaluated and when you begin to see the gifts that God has given you and you are considering your role in the larger body, then use that gift—use your life.
Paul says in the text, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” [vv.6-8]
Paul gives examples of how we can use our gifts because he knows our sinful nature which would tend to say, “I don’t have anything that I can use.”
Paul begins with prophesy. To prophesy in the scriptural sense is to proclaim what God reveals—to speak the words of God. If you have a gift for declaring and proclaiming the Word of God then by all means proclaim it! Paul adds that this proclamation be done, “according to the faith.” If you have the gift to proclaim the truth of God, do it, making sure that it matches what God has revealed in His Word.
The second example of Paul is ministry. The ministry of which Paul speaks is service and not only the public ministry. If you have the gift of serving one another, then serve one another.
“…He who exhorts, in exhortation.” Some of you have the gift of calling someone else to your side and counseling them. It may be counsel to give direction, to help in making decisions, to help in solving a problem, to uplift, to correct, to encourage, to comfort. Whatever the need, it is a gift to be one who gladly listens and then with compassion is able to offer good counsel. If you are able to counsel and comfort and help you have the gift, use it!
Paul continues, “He who gives with liberality.” Some of the resources to give to others. Paul encourages the gift to be used fully and not stingily saying, “Well, I suppose I better give you this…I better share.” Share with liberality. Give bountifully as the Lord has given to you. “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Next, Paul moves to leadership, “He who leads, with diligence”—with haste, with a sense of urgency. If you have the gift to lead, even if you don’t have a title, even if you are leading only one other person, lead with diligence!
Our country, our world, our society is woefully lacking in solid, God-directed leadership. Not everyone is cut out to be “the leader,” but you have gifts in the Gospel that enable you to lead in ways that no unbeliever can. If you have the opportunity to lead, even if it is just you and a friend deciding between right and wrong activities, lead! You have the gift, you have the opportunity, you have a role in this larger body of Christ’s Church. Using gifts to lead in a God-pleasing way is to lead with diligence, urgency, and a sense of purpose.
If you have the gift to lead, lead! Take the bull by the horns and go, but to use another expression, don’t let that bull become a bull in a china shop. There is a danger for those who lead to run right over those whom they are leading. Peter warns against this when he writes, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3). By all means, lead, but do so with compassion and understanding for those whom you are leading.
Every one of you has gifts. Every one of you has a role in this larger body of Christ. Use those gifts! You may have gifts you won’t use for awhile, There are different times and different seasons in one’s life which means you’ll use different gifts in those seasons, but use them faithfully and thereby present your life to God.
God doesn’t tell us much more about Samuel’s relationship with Hannah except that she brought a coat to him each year when she came to the tabernacle (1 Samuel 2:19). One can only imagine the joy in Hannah’s heart as she saw her Samuel grow up in service to the Lord. Her gift was enhanced because her gift was serving the One who gave it.
Your life is your gift from God. It will only be enhanced to His glory when you as a redeemed child of God present it to Him and say, “Use me, Lord.” Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.