Summary: How do you get a sense of well being, identity and purpose? Is it by how you feel inside and how you compare to others outside? Paul gives us some wonderful advice on how to deal with this as a member of the body of Christ.
Last time we talked about how to respond to God’s mercy—by making ourselves available to God by putting ourselves on the altar as a living sacrifice, shunning the molding of the world on our character externally, while embracing the transformation of our character internally by the presence of the Holy Spirit. So that’s all well and good theoretically, but how does that work itself out practically? That’s what Paul goes into next.
We all have a purpose here. It is outlined well in 1 Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 10:31-33 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.
Paul’s talking about how to work with weak believers or those outside the faith, especially when it comes to the sticky issue of the day with meat sacrificed to idols. But the principal can be universally applied. “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” We are part of His story. And “not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.” So the second part of why we are here is to make disciples, as Jesus told us to do in Matthew 28:19. It all starts with the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Acts 1:6-8 So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
Witnessing, by the way, is not a technique that you master but the person you are. We nurture the Spirit’s presence and power in us as we have an active, ongoing relationship with God, and allow Him to transform us into His character so that we start thinking and acting like Him—and voila—we become His witness.
But there is a serious problem with two sides that can crop up and keep us from being effective. Either we see the transforming work and become prideful, or we are so down on ourselves that we cannot see the transforming work at all. Both of these will keep us from being an effective part of God’s plan.
So Paul addresses these, and sets our focus in the next six verses of chapter 12. It’s part of a larger discussion of how the Christian should live out their relationship with God. In the coming weeks we’ll talk about how to love others, how to be a good citizen, how to handle problems with other people, and how to deal with the weak. But it all starts with us—having an accurate self image so we can be most effectively used.
How to think of yourself (vs 3)
I like how Paul starts out by saying “by the grace given to me.” He means his position as an apostle, but I think it’s also good as a preamble to the discussion about self image that he uses “grace” – that unmerited favor God bestows on us.
So he says “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment.”
We all have a self image—a way we think about ourselves. Paul adds a character to how we should exercise that self-thought. To the Greek word translated “to think” (exercise the mind) he adds a prefix from the word “Sozo” which means “safe, sound, or whole.” Together the word comes to us as “sober thoughts” – thoughts not influenced by other factors—we are in our “right mind” in other words.
What does this mean? In the context here, I don’t think Paul is giving us advice on self esteem. What he’s talking about is our place and purpose. By God’s grace we become a part of God’s story and plan. To accomplish that plan God gives certain people certain gifts. Some might seem more important than others and so if they see themselves as having somehow merited a “more important” gift, then pride might set in.
Paul wants us all to know that we are nothing outside of Jesus but everything in Him. We can and should carve down the thoughts that say “I deserve this because I’m great” and build up the parts that say “God shouldn’t love me because I’m bad or weak.”