Sound Judgment, One Body, Several Parts
From Gospel Translations
By John Piper
About The Nature of the Church
Part of the series The Church: Living Together When Christ is All in All
I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly; if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
If you were God and it was your will that your people be strong in faith and that they become perfect in love; and if you had the right and the power to give the gift of faith in whatever proportion you pleased, then wouldn't you just get it done—give everyone great faith and catapult them straight forward into perfect love? That's what I think I would do.
To which I think God says, "That's just another reason (of many) why you are not God." God did not do it that way. He didn't give everyone great faith and great gifts. And it won't do to say that the reason he doesn't do it that way is that we have independent wills that he can't change. The text makes very clear that God has the right and the ability to give us the level of faith he pleases and the degree of grace he pleases and the kind of gift he pleases. There are other reasons that he doesn't give us all the same amount of great faith and the same degree of grace and the same gift. I think we will see at least one of those reasons before we're done. It has to do with the nature of the body of Christ and the way God aims to be glorified corporately and not just individually.
Paul's Concern for the Way We Think
We're going to focus on verses 3–6. The main point of these verses seems to be that each member of the body of Christ should not think more highly of himself than is necessary, but should think with sound judgment about his own faith and grace and gift. That's what verse 3 says: "For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith."
In other words, Paul is really concerned about the way we think, or the mindset we have. This is not surprising because verse 2 said that we should not be "conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." So verse 2 says, "Be renewed in your mind," and then verse 3 says, "Use that new mind not to think too highly of yourself, but to have sound judgment regarding your faith and grace and gifts."
For the Aim of Love and the Right Use of Our Gifts
The aim of this renewed mind and right thinking and sound judgment is the right use of our gifts for the sake of the body of Christ. That is, the aim is love. That's the point of verses 6–8, "And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them accordingly; if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith." And so on. We must think with sober judgment about the fact that our faith comes in different proportions if we would exercise our gifts well for the good of the body. We must not think too highly, but think with sound judgment about our gifts and our grace and our faith, if we are going to use our gifts in humility and love and effectiveness for the body.
So what I want us to focus on is this sound judgment of the renewed mind that helps us use our gifts the way we should.
One of our goals in this series of messages on the church is to discover what it means to be the church. Is church mainly a come and listen series of events? Or is church mainly a meet and minister series of gatherings. I say, "mainly," because I don't think the answer is either-or. But I think from what we have been seeing, and will see today, that the main thing in being the church is every member growing in the ability to minister a unique grace to others in the body and a unique witness to those outside and a unique tribute to God in heaven. Let's test that on today's text.
What Is the Sound Judgment We Are to Have?
What is this sound (or sober) judgment that we should have about our faith and our grace and our gifts that will help us use them for each other the way we should?
The essence of this sound judgment is that it is the opposite of pride and that it is permeated with the awareness that our grace and our faith and our gifts are free gifts of God and that our differences are his doing and may never be the ground of boasting but only of unifying service in the body. Or, to shorten it down, sound judgment means: judgment based on God's gracious freedom and our humility.
Paul shows this in three ways.
1. Paul's Thinking as an Example to Follow
First he sets an example of this way of humble thinking himself.
"Through the Grace Given to Me"
Verse 3 begins, "For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think." Paul doesn't presume to admonish them in his own authority. He deflects the honor that might come to him as a person telling the whole church how to act, and says, "Through the grace given to me I speak." Not through my own wisdom or my own rights or my own authority. But through a special grace that God gave me.
He does the same thing in Romans 15:15, "I have written very boldly to you on some points, so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given to me from God." His boldness to tell the church what to think and what to do is not owing to anything in him by nature or by his own doing. It is owing to a special grace. Christ had freely called Paul and freely graced him to do what Christ wanted him to do. He was acting in the authority and power of another. So he could not think highly of himself, but only of the wonderful grace he had received.
Comparing Verse 3 to Verse 6
Now compare this testimony of Paul's to verse 6: "And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us . . . " There you have the same phrase as in verse 3: "grace given."
- Verse 3: I speak through the grace given to me.
- Verse 6: Our gifts differ according to the grace given to us.
What Paul is doing here is saying that even he, as an apostle, is in the same class with all the other members in the church. His gift and their gifts are owing to grace freely given by God.
This is the first thing that characterizes the renewed mind of verse 2 and the sound judgment of verse 3: it is permeated by the awareness that whatever God calls us to do will be based on his grace to do it.
Three Effects of This Mindset
The effects of this mindset are at least three:
First, it gives peace of mind. Grace means that God is for us and not against us. If you are what you are by the grace of God (1 Corinthians 15:10), if you have your role in the body according to grace, then it is what's best for you and for the body. And you can rest in God's goodness. Grace means what he gives you is good for you. And that gives peace of mind.
The second effect of grace is that it gives humility. Grace not only means God is for you, it also means you did not earn or deserve what you got. It is free. That's what grace means. Romans 11:6 says, "If it is by grace, it is no longer by works, otherwise grace is no longer grace." Grace by definition means you didn't earn it and therefore can't boast. The only proper response is humility. So thinking with sound judgment means that your thinking is permeated with this awareness: you have your role by grace, not merit. So sound judgment is humble judgment.
The third effect of knowing that your role is a gift of grace is the effect of power. Peace, humility, and now power. The reason is simple: God's grace is powerful. And the reason it's powerful is because it's God's. Grace is not mere permission to serve. It is not mere obligation to serve. It is not mere calling to serve. Grace is power to serve. Grace is God's presence in you freeing you from the power of sin to serve the body of Christ.
So that's the first way that Paul shows what sound judgment is in verse 3: he sets an example of humble thinking himself by saying that the only reason he can speak with authority is that grace has been given to him, with its effects of peace, humility, and power, which are all God's doing.
2. The Gift of Faith
The second way Paul illustrates the humility of this sound judgment is by saying that faith is a gift.
Verse 3: "I say to every one of you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith."
All Boasting Is Excluded
If you come to terms with the fact that God measures out faith in various measures, you will think with sound judgment and you will not think more highly than you ought to think. Some in the church at Rome, as in other churches then and now, were evidently saying, "Grace may be a gift, but faith is the act of mine that receives and uses the gift, and so I can be proud of it and think highly of it as something to take credit for."
But Paul says, "That is not thinking with sober judgment. That is thinking more highly than one must think." Because, even though faith is indeed an act of the human heart, it is first a gift from God. Verse 3: "God has measured to each a measure of faith." God gives grace and God gives the faith to receive the grace. All boasting is excluded. To grasp this is to be freed from thinking more highly than we should and to think with sound judgment.
Different Measures of Faith to Different People
Someone might say, "Well, yes, perhaps God gives faith once at the beginning to all his people, but the differences in our faith are our doing alone and whether one has small faith and another has large faith is not God's doing."
But, no, this will not stand before verse 3: "God has allotted to each a measure of faith." Literally: "to each as God measured a measure of faith." The clear meaning is that God measures different measures of faith to different people. This is mentioned in verse 6 as well when the list of gifts begins with prophecy. Paul says, "Let each exercise [his gifts] accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith." This is a reference back to the measure of faith that each is given by God (v. 3).
So the first way Paul shows us what sound judgment is, is by telling us that he and we fulfill our role in the church only by the grace that is given to us.
Secondly, he says that the differing measures of faith that we have are owing to God's measuring out different measures of faith.
So we cannot think more highly than is necessary because all that we have is by grace, and even the faith to receive and use grace is a gift. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:7, "What do you have that you did not receive [as a gift]? And if you [thus] received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?"
3. God's Design of the Body
Finally, Paul shows us what sound judgment is by telling us that our gifts differ by God's design and that we relate as parts of a body, not contestants in a game.
Verse 6 again: "Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us." Varied grace means differing gifts. And since the gifts differ according to grace, we cannot boast in them, but only receive them and be glad and use them to serve each other.
He puts this in the context of a body in verses 4–5, "For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another."
The point here is that our differing gifts and differing grace and differing faith are supposed to be understood not as differences among contestants in a game where we try to beat each other, but differences among parts of a body where we try to serve each other. That's what comes from not thinking highly of ourselves but thinking with sober judgment—that grace and faith and gifts are never a ground for self-exaltation but only God-exaltation.
So go back with me for one final moment to the question we posed at the beginning: since God has the ability and right to give all of us the same great faith, and the same grace, and the same gifts, why does he give such a variety of measures of faith and such a variety of grace, with some receiving less faith and some receiving more faith?
Why Does God Design Such Variety?
The answer, I believe, is that God intends to create and perfect a people for himself not ready made as immediately perfected individuals; rather he intends to create and perfect a people for himself by having them use their gifts toward each other so that they join God in the process of helping each other grow in knowledge and faith and hope and love.
It's like the rugs my wife, Noël, is crocheting. She could take strips of cloth and lay them out straight, each the same perfect length beside each other. Then she could glue them or stitch them together and make a rug of equal pieces side-by-side but not interwoven. But that is not the way she does it. The piece of cloth goes in and out and up and down. It looks like it is making some headway and then she pulls it back to pick up an obscure almost hidden loop. The free strand stoops and bows to pass through the almost forgotten loop and instead of going on ahead alone, draws the loop into the pattern.
The result is that things go a lot slower than laying out the strips and sewing them together. But the final product is a beautifully interwoven work of art that is a greater glory because each part didn't move quickly and immediately in a straight line toward the ideal length, but instead in the master's hand did its differing service of interlocking with all the other parts to serve them.
The bottom line is that God gives some more and some less not so that we would all move alone straight ahead toward some imagined individualistic ideal, but so that those with more would serve those with less and those with less would grow till they have more and then serve the less. This way God is weaving a tapestry that will bring him more glory than any other way.