Now that Paul has established that God’s promises are true to Jew and Gentile alike in the first 11 chapters of Romans, he moves toward the result that should follow in chapter 12. In case you missed it, Romans 12:1-2 was already discussed at length in this post and in this post.
Unity as a Body (12:3-8):
Paul now uses the metaphor of believers being assembled in a unified way as Christ’s body (12:3-8). A body does not war against itself. Body parts don’t try to “one up” each other. The parts of a body work in unison to accomplish the same goal and that goal is defined by the head (which is Christ). He is no longer talking just to Jew or just to Gentile. Rather, “every one of you…” (12:3) is now the audience. There is no mistake. Paul is not saying all Jewish Christians are in one body and Gentiles in another. They are all in the same body.
Think about the implications of that for a moment. Jew and Gentile now parts of the same body…that is radical thinking in their day! Due to cultural norms and traditions this is something that was not to be said. But Paul says it anyway because God made it so. We got hints of this in Jesus’ ministry (John 4 for instance). We see it building in Acts (Acts 9-10). But here Paul makes it very clear that what God is doing is more than just saving Jews and saving Gentiles. He has drawn them into perfect unity in the same body. This would be a humbling thing to think about and because of that Paul calls them to consider themselves with “sober judgment” (12:3) and not thinking of themselves too highly. What is ironic about that is, their status is actually much greater than they realized! They are in the body of Christ! Yet, pride can make a status much lower than that seem much higher than membership in the body of Christ. And that is what Paul warns them against.
When we understand our function we will find unity. When all the parts of the body come together, each trying to submit to the will of the head, unity can be achieved. But if we each come together trying to run the show, call the shots, and put the feet or hands or arms in charge we make a mess of it. Notice again, even the gifts we have been given are through grace (12:6). So even our very function is not something to be boasting in as it has all come from God.
How to Practically Live Out Unity in the Midst of a Divided Church (12:9-21):
Then all of a sudden Paul shifts gears to take on a totally different and completely unrelated concept…love! If you know me or have been following this Romans series to date you realize I say that “tongue in cheek.” Paul is not starting some new and unrelated topic. Don’t let those uninspired section headings throw you for a loop. He is still talking about unity. In Romans 12:9-21 Paul gives them a list of concrete ways that they are to live out their unity with one another. In other words, this is the way a body lives healthily. He mentions love, hospitality, mutual submission, and how to deal with those who may stand opposed to you (12:14-16). That last one may even be in reference of the Jews for the Gentiles and the Gentiles for the Jews. As you read these verses, you can’t help but think he is talking about how each cultural side should view and treat the other. Even if they view each other as enemies they have no excuse to treat those they disagree with, with enmity or evil. This is the ultimate call to unity and a very practical list of how to actually live it out!
In all things, Paul reminds them that the ultimate answer to evil in the world is good. But often we are tempted to answer evil with evil. Paul says that is a losing game, no matter how tempting it might be. We have churches that remain divided today. It might be helpful to put some of these things Paul is talking about in verses 9-21 into practice and just see how God works. Too often churches split without trying to put into practice godly/biblical principles of reconciliation. I think these principles are not just for divided churches but can also be preventative actions by churches that are still very unified. If we do these things, chances are we won’t be dividing so frequently and fussing and fighting with each other over petty issues.