12:3—Thinking correctly of ourselves.
each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
Verse 1 tells us to look back at what God has done for us (his mercies) and to respond with sacrificial offering of our bodies to God. Verse 2 tells us 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 did choose to write about 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 churches 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 something—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.
Paul wants us to think of ourselves as God does. God sees us in Christ and therefore dead to sin and alive to God. God also sees us as possessing diverse gifts that he has distributed among the members of the body of Christ. God gave us those gifts to build up one another in the faith, and he wants us to value our gifts appropriately, neither with pride nor with self-depreciation, and not in comparison with one another. We are to use our gifts in humble and loving service of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Faith to exercise God’s gift
My first experience as a teacher took place in 1971, three years after I was saved. Jim Brumbach, our acknowledged leader, asked me to teach at one of our meetings, and I was too scared to do it but also 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.
I’m not sure what Paul means by “measure of faith,” and scholars interpret the phrase in varying ways, but it might have to do with what drove me to persevere in overcoming the dread of public speaking. Assuming God gave me the gift of teaching, I was convinced he would empower me if I didn’t yield to fear. So 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.” By faith I continued to accept opportunities to speak, which also meant accepting the fear, and I knew my final accountability was not to the audience but to God.