Summary: Oneness in the community of faith.
Oneness in the community of faith is achieved, not by conforming everyone to the lowest common denominator in Christ, but by recognizing that each person, as a result of God’s grace and the gifting of the Holy Spirit, receives an ability to supply what is needed for the common good of the whole body of Christ. “How unity, the mark of the community, comes about in the diversity of their faith and action, Paul shows them via the unity of the body in which the many members are joined, each of which carries out its own function. This prevents the believer from withdrawing from the fellowship in order to cultivate his own life; by the same token the community is forbidden to enforce unity by insisting upon sameness. The many are joined to the community by being in Christ. This provides them with their commonality of conviction and obligation and enables each one to be effective for the others. In the community each one is a member in relation to the other; each one’s function derives from the life given to the community and is carried out for the growth of the community” (Adolf Schlatter, Romans: The Righteousness of God, p. 232).
Jesus is the perfect model for living in Christian community. While he does not abdicate his role as the organizing leader of the Twelve, or as their teacher, or as the savior of their souls, he remains a servant leader. Though he is the sovereign Lord of the universe, he is the perfect example of it means to be a leader and a servant. Though he requires loving obedience (John 14.23), he does not forcefully constrain others to do his will (Ephesians 2.4-10). It is the compelling indwelling of the Holy Spirit that though the obedience of faith obliges believers to be conformed in thought and action to the pattern of Christ (Romans 1.5). Even a passing reflection on the humiliation of Christ’s incarnation must give a Christian pause when tempted by self-advancement. “He [Jesus] humbled himself more in lying in the virgin’s womb than in hanging upon the cross. It was not so much for man to die, but for God to become man was the wonder of humility (Thomas Watson, The Body of Divinity, p. 196). Of course, Jesus’ own comment on servant leadership is the standard by which all Christians must measure their service: You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them (John 13.13-17).
THE COMMAND (12.3)
How one thinks about himself is important. The ability accurately to assess one’s giftedness is, in part, a matter of achieving a proper balance between gratefully accepting what the Holy Spirit has done in his life and maintaining a spirit of humility so as not immodestly to think too much of himself (Galatians 5.26; James 4.6-10). God’s grace is always active in the life of the believer. When properly received God’s grace leads to unity among the brethren and obedience to Christ. Paul’s appeal to the Romans is that the grace which brings salvation would evidence itself in them to give witness to transforming work of God’s grace: For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil (Romans 16.19). Paul’s exposition of Habakkuk 2.4, The righteous by their faith will live, in the first 8 chapters of his letter now finds its application in the outworking of grace in the body of Christ. The Christian’s new mind in Christ (12.2; cp. 1 Corinthians 2.16) places particular importance on the needs of others. While there is an obvious need for each believer to think biblically and to make every effort not to be conformed to the patterns of the world, it is also important that he realize that his conformity to Christ involves him in an interdependent community of faith.
I give each of you this warning: don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has give us (NLT). Paul’s play on words stresses the importance of thinking properly about oneself. The need for a humble self-assessment is accompanied by a healthy respect for the giftedness of others. The heart is naturally inclined toward self-deception; it easily thinks more of itself than it ought. Thus, Paul’s warning may not be aimed at particular individuals but is a general note of caution for all to be mindful of the pride of self-sufficiency. Being conscious of one’s dependency on the Spirit for all things ought to produce heartfelt humility and gratitude. There are a multitude of things that are indispensable to life in the Christian community and no one person has everything that is needful. So there is no place for the pride of self-sufficiency.