Monday, 15 August 2016

Radical Belonging

I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Romans 12:4-8

By the oversight of the Holy Spirit, while Romans was written for us, it wasn’t written to us. As Peter Oakes invites us to imagine in Reading Romans in Pompeii: Paul’s Letter at Ground Level, it was written to Holconius the craftworker and the Christians who gathered in his workshop every Sunday. How would it have been heard by them?

Almost certainly, as residents of the Greco-Roman world of the first century, they would be familiar with the use of ‘body’ as a metaphor for harmony and cooperation. Except that where the analogy was used to call the commoners to work for the good of the senators or the state, here those who are gifted work for the good of the whole body – and all are gifted.

A body where ‘each member belongs to all the others’, where a householder and a slave are equally interdependent, would undermine the status system of first-century Rome. Centuries later, whenever we’re tempted to feel superior to fellow members in the body of Christ, it still does. How could it be otherwise when the different gifts flow from God’s grace to each of us and are given for the good of the whole body?

The similarities and differences with other lists of gifts in Paul’s letters suggests it’s not intended to be a complete catalogue. Of the ones mentioned here, several of them have to do with the practical assistance of those in need. While some would be exercised during the time of meeting, others would be more applicable outside that context. All of them are concerned with our responsibility to one another, and are to be exercised with diligence and passion. None of them require calling to a special office.

The overall picture is of a community marked by the inspired disclosure of God’s word, a wellbeing that comes from service, teaching that builds people up, encouragement which helps fellow believers live out their obedience to Jesus, sharing generously with those in need, which is led diligently and well, characterised by a cheerful mercy that imitates God himself.

Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

It would be all too easy to bemoan how we fail to live up to that picture rather than ask instead how we might contribute to it, how we too might belong to the body of Christ.

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