In Romans 12:4 Paul sees a parallel between the Christian community and a typical human body. As human beings, for instance, we “each have a body with many members,” or many operating parts, but these operating parts “don’t all have the same function.” We have legs and arms, for example, which are attached to our bodies – but for different functions. And to Paul that’s a perfect picture of the church, because as a Christian community “we who are many also form one single body,” verse 5, but we don’t all have the same function in the church body either.
And the reason we don’t all have the same function is because “we have different gifts, according to the grace given us,” verse 6. So this is God’s doing. He equips the Christian community – or church body – with all sorts of gifts and operating parts for different functions. And why would he do that? Because it’s through these varying gifts that “each member belongs to all the others,” verse 5.
It’s exactly the same in the human body. Every operating part, whether it’s our spinal cord or all the bits and pieces that make up our digestive system, is totally needed by our bodies to function properly. My eye would be useless without the optic nerve, for instance, and my stomach wouldn’t function at all well without the pancreas and gall bladder. All the parts in the human body, then, belong to each other, because each part is vital for our bodies to function properly.
And this, according to Paul, is how the Christian community functions properly too. God has designed the church so that there are all sorts of operating parts, each one of which is vital. Paul mentions the gift of “teaching,” for example, in verse 7, but only in connection with several other gifts like “serving” and “encouraging” (verses 7 and 8), because all these gifts he mentions are needed in the functioning of the church.
Giving each of us a gift, therefore, is like giving us an essential part in a human body. We’re now vital to that body functioning properly, but so are all the other parts of the body – they’re just as vital in enabling our personal part to function properly too. In both our human bodies and the church body, therefore, we find the same principle at work, that all the parts belong to each other.
But why is all this so important for us to grasp? Because it’s a perfect picture of what life is like on the God level. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one body but have different functions, each function being vital to their operation as one body too. They too, then, belong to each other, just as we in the church do.
It’s through our experience in the church, therefore, that we come to see and actually experience the life of God himself. How? Through these differing gifts God gives us that enable us to both serve and be served, just like the Father, Son and Holy Spirit serve, and are served by, each other.
It means there’s a body of people on this planet that lives and operates like the Father, Son and Holy Spirit do. It’s life as they (Father, Son and Spirit) have always lived it, but now they’re opening up that life to us as well. How? By enabling us to supernaturally experience it communally, as we serve each other and are served by each other – just like God does – in our Christian community, with the gifts we have “according to the grace given us,” verse 6.
This is what makes life so successful and fulfilling in any Christian community. It’s knowing our gifts and belting them out at full steam, just as Paul said in verses 6-8. If we have a gift for serving, then go all out and “serve,” he writes. Or if it’s a God-given gift of “contributing to the needs of others,” do it “generously,” or if it’s the gift of leadership, do it “diligently,” or if it’s the gift of “showing mercy,” do it “cheerfully.” Don’t be shy or hold back, or think God hasn’t given us a gift. He’s given every one of us a gift, so that we belong to each other, because it’s in our belonging to each other that we come to experience and live as God lives.
Paul’s only caution is not to get a big head about our gifts (verse 3). Stay focused instead on why God has given us these gifts, and trust that in the use of them we are contributing a vital part to our own Christian community in helping us all experience life as God lives it. Because according to Paul in Romans 12, that’s the way God designed it to happen, that we experience the supernatural communally.