not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think,
but to think with sober judgment,
each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
Paul opened this chapter telling us to look back at what God has done for us (his mercies) and to respond with sacrificial offering of our bodies to God. We are not to conform to the mindsets and lifestyles of the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so we may know and do the will of God. What would be a logical follow-up to these exhortations?
There is no single right answer to that question, because it would have made sense for Paul to write about any area of Christian duty. What he chose was the believer’s responsibility to serve the community of faith. To serve with an attitude of humility and love, we must have an accurate view of ourselves.Paul’s thoughtful wordplay
Paul’s epistle was likely read in its entirety to the church in Rome soon after it was carried there by a woman named Phoebe. (She is the first person mentioned in chapter 16, and she lived not far from Corinth, where Paul wrote the epistle.) And this brings me to a side note: How many congregations today would sit still to hear the book of Romans read out loud? Very few of us could track Paul’s complex thinking for that long let alone keep our fingers off our cell phones. One lesson for us is that we should not think more highly of ourselves in the 21st century than of our stalwart predecessors in the faith!
Drawing on his rhetorical skills, Paul delighted his audience by using a form of the Greek word phroneō, “to think,” four times. Most commands by the apostle are to do something. This is a command to think something. In 6:11, Paul gave another command to think—to reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ. Here the command is to think with sober judgment (think with right or sound thinking), which is certainly one expression of a renewed mind.
Shortly Paul will mention some of the diverse gifts God has distributed among the members of the body of Christ. Paul wants us to think of ourselves as God does—as possessing and using at least one of these gifts for the purpose of building up one another in the faith. The apostle wants us to value our role in the church appropriately, neither with pride nor with self-depreciation, and not in comparison with one another. We are to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ in humility and love.“Measure of faith”
This phrase, as Marvin Vincent says, is not easy to define accurately. Commentators split between two main interpretations of its meaning. Paul could mean the one basic faith of all believers as a way to promote unity in the church. Or the phrase could refer to the faith particular to each believer as a recipient of the various gifts of ministry. Having weighed the arguments, I think the immediate context seems to favor the latter view.
The measure of faith, then, is relative to each individual. As Vincent states, “the line between conceit and sober thinking is not the same for all.” “Measure of faith” would seem to correspond with “in proportion to our faith” in verse 6.
In this context, the exhortation is to evaluate one’s giftedness with sober judgment for the purpose of serving the body of Christ most effectively with an attitude of love. Each member looks to Christ for empowerment and guidance in the exercise of his or her gift.
The standard for judgment is the person’s faith. “With faith the believer receives a power of discernment as to the actual limitations of his gifts,” Vincent states. Joseph Fitzmyer puts it this way: “Each one, instead of thinking too highly of oneself, should measure himself or herself by the standard of what one believes according to God’s gift.”
It is worth noting Paul speaks to each member of the church. He is not telling church leaders how to assign members to the various roles. Pastors and other leaders can encourage and train members to exercise their gifts, but must respect each person’s discernment of his or her own giftedness and readiness to perform.Faith to exercise God’s gift
My first experience as a teacher took place in 1971, three years after I was saved. When asked to teach at one of our meetings, I was too scared to do it and too scared to refuse. So I agreed, and I prepared in fear of the appointed time. About halfway through the teaching my mind and tongue froze. I asked everyone’s apology and stepped away from the podium in embarrassment.
The phrase “measure of faith” has to do with what drove me to persevere in overcoming my dread of public speaking. I understand this phrase in the sense Everett Harrison does: “grasping the nature of one’s spiritual gift and having confidence to exercise it rightly.” I believed God gave me the gift of teaching, so I was convinced he would empower me if I didn’t yield to fear.
By any measure my teaching was ludicrously below standard. So by faith I continued to accept opportunities to speak, which also meant accepting the fear and potential humiliation. What helped most was the realization my final accountability was not to the audience but to God.