Romans 12:4
Having seen what Christian individualism is meant to be in the preceding verses, we now enter upon the wider relation of Churchmanship. For the apostle is not here speaking of human nature in its social aspects, as we find it so powerfully expounded for us in Bishop Butler's 'Sermons upon Human Nature,' but in its Church aspect, the relation of the individual to the one body which has its organic existence "in Christ." The apostle would have us to believe that we are united as closely to our fellow-believers as the members of one body are to one another. In fact, we are members one of another. A selfish individualism is out of the question; we are bound to the body of believers by vital and eternal ties. Hence we are to consider in this section the constitution of the body of Christ, that is the Church. And -

I. BELIEVERS ARE TO REGARD THEMSELVES AS ORGANICALLY UNITED, AND ARE CONSEQUENTLY TO CO-OPERATE FOR THE COMMON END. (Vers. 4, 5.) We are not meant to be isolated units, but members in sympathy. We are "joint-heirs" with Jesus Christ; we are consequently partners with one another in the great Christian enterprise. Co-operation, rather than competition, should be the guiding star of Christian people. We are distinctly made for the Christian Church, and it is our duty to promote the happiness and welfare of all our fellow-believers. Organic connection implies co-operation and sympathy of the sincerest character.

II. AS MEMBERS ONE OF ANOTHER, BELIEVERS WILL FIND THEMSELVES DISTRIBUTED A VARIETY OF POSITIONS, JUST AS THE MEMBERS OF THE BODY. (Vers. 6-8.) While believers are members one of another, we are not reduced to a dead level of uniformity. Edification is doubtless to be in the body as every joint supplieth it, but the joints are not all alike; if they were, it would be a curious medley - a conglomeration of mere atoms, which we should have in place of a body. In the body there is subordination of member to member, and part to part. The foot is not to usurp the place of the head, nor the hand that of the eye, else will the body be turned upside down, and become a monstrosity instead of a thing and form of beauty. Consequently, we find that in the apostolic Church there were a variety of offices, and the apostle here specifies the spirit in which they should be filled and their duties discharged. Let us briefly notice the offices as here described.

1. Prophecy. The apostle puts this in the very forefront. Parallel passages go to prove that it was most highly esteemed in the apostolic Church. Thus it is placed immediately after the working of miracles (1 Corinthians 12:10). In another place it is spoken of as "the gift of prophecy," and is associated with the "understanding of all mysteries, and of all knowledge" (1 Corinthians 13:2). It is further represented as the necessary adjunct to speaking with tongues (1 Corinthians 14:6, 22). And it was evidently regarded as the prime requisite in the edification of the public congregation; for St. Paul declares, "If all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth" (1 Corinthians 14:24, 25). Now, the more this matter is looked into, the more clearly are we landed in the conclusion that we have the prophetical office continued in Christ's Church in the ministry of the Word. Every minister who is called by Christ to the preaching of the gospel, and endowed by him for the work, is a prophet of the Highest just as really as Elijah or John the Baptist. If, then, to any of us this grace of prophecy has been committed, we must exercise it "according to the proportion of faith" (ἀναλογίαν τῆς πίστεως). That is, "the prophet must be true and sincere, communicating only what God has given him." Moreover, and chiefly, must he show no disposition to exaggerations in the exposition of religion, but must give to each subject its due place and proportion. Hence Dr. Shedd, in his 'Commentary' upon the passage, declares, "This injunction of St. Paul is the key to systematic theology. No alleged Christian tenet can be correct which conflicts with other Christian tenets. All Christian truth must be consistent with Christianity. For example, the Deity of Christ supposes the doctrine of the Trinity; monergistic regeneration involves the doctrine of election; and an infinite atonement for sin, by God incarnate, logically implies an infinite penalty for sin."

2. The diaconate. For it is evidently to this particular ministry (διακονίαν) the apostle is here referring. To the apostolic Church this set of officers was given to attend to the temporalities of the Church, especially the care of the poor, the sick, and such like. The idea, then, is that thoroughness should characterize the diaconate just as well as the prophetical office.

3. Teaching. Now, the office of teacher is distinguished from that of prophet in such passages as 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11. It has been suggested that the prophetical office implies inspiration, while the teacher's only the common knowledge of a devout and disciplined Christian mind (Shedd, in loc.). There is evidently need of a teaching order in the Church as well as of a preaching or prophetical order. If any is called to teach, let him be thorough in his teaching.

4. Exhortation. This is a gift which can be exercised by men who do not aspire to either the prophetical or the teaching office. It deals with the heart and will. "Evangelists" are for the most part of this character: they go about to stir up the souls of men to decision and activity, while their teaching is of necessity of a very limited description.

5. Giving. This applies to the distribution by the deacon of the Church's charity, and it may also apply to the private beneficence of the Church-member. In either case simplicity of motive and of aim is to characterize the giver. Charity should be exercised without parade and without any ulterior or selfish end.

6. Ruling. This undoubtedly refers to the function exercised by the officers of the Church, and it implies that nothing but diligence can succeed. Zeal (σπουδή) for the Church's purity and honour, and for the glory of the Church's Head, should characterize all who have authority in the Church.

7. Showing mercy. This applies to the attention the deacons and private Christians show to the sick and the suffering. Well, it is to be exercised "with hilarity" (ἱλαρότητι). What a difference it often makes when we set cheerfully about our merciful ministrations, entering with alacrity into them, and not doing them "against the grain"? Our "pity," as it has been very properly said, "should be impulsive, and not an effort; an inclination, and not a volition" (so Shedd, in loc.). Now, if Churchmanship were entered into in this noble and sympathetic spirit, what a different tale would our different Churches have to tell! It would be a tale of tender and gracious ministration, a tale of real because spiritual success? May the merciful Master grant it! - R.M.E.

For as we have many members in one body.
How comprehensively he surveys the whole range of human action and conduct! He starts from the consideration of men as constituting "many members in one body," and he proceeds to direct them in their various offices. He passes in review the private and public duties to which they might be called — ministering, teaching, exhorting, giving, ruling, and obeying; he depicts the spirit of the Christian in business and in rest, in joy and in sorrow, in hope and in tribulation, towards friends and towards enemies, in peace and in wrath; and he lays down the Christian principles of civil government and obedience. It is a picture of life in its length and breadth, and even in all its lights and shadows, transfigured as the landscape by the sun, under the renovating influence of those spiritual rays of love which illuminated and warmed the apostle's soul.

(H. Wace, D.D.)

1. The early Church, like the latter, seems to have been deformed by many dissensions. Those who had the least conspicuous endowments envied those who had the more, in place of using such gifts as they had. In order to show the unreasonableness and the evil of this state of things, St. Paul often drew his illustrations from the human body, the parts of which had different offices; but no part of which could be dispensed with without injury to all the rest. So the Church was composed of many members, some of which were, comparatively, without honour, but none were without use; each had functions essential to the general well-being.

2. Observe what close links there are between the several classes in the community, and how the breaking of any one would dislocate the whole social system. "The king himself is served by the field." The throne is connected with the soil; and the proud occupant of the one is dependent on the tiller of the other. When you look on a community like our own, with its nobles, merchants, teachers, men of science, artificers, you may perhaps think little of the peasantry. But were the peasantry to cease from their labours, there would be an immediate arrest on the pursuits of the community, and, from the throne downward, society would be panic-stricken. There, can, therefore, be no more pitiable spectacle than that of a haughty individual, who looks superciliously on those who occupy stations inferior to his own. And it would be a just method of rebuking his arrogance to require him to trace the production and progress of all that wealth or rank which ministers to his pride, till he finds it originate in the bone and muscle of these objects of his scorn.

3. "That the poor shall never cease out of the land," is one of those wise and benevolent arrangements of Providence which so eminently distinguish the moral government of this world. One of the most fatal and common tendencies of our nature is to selfishness — the forgetting others, and the caring only for ourselves. And who can fail to see that the having amongst us objects which continually appeal to our compassion is wonderfully adapted for counteracting that tendency. It may be perfectly true that the indigent cannot do without the benevolent; but it is equally true that the benevolent cannot do without the indigent; and whenever you give ear to a tale of distress, and you contribute according to your ability to the relief of the suppliant, you are receiving as well as conferring a benefit. The afflicted being whom you succour, keeps, by his appeal, the charities of your nature from growing stagnant, and thus may be said to requite the obligation.

4. Observe how applicable is the principle of our text to the several classes of society. Of what avail would be the skill and courage of the general who had no troops to obey his command? what the ingenuity of the mechanic if there were no labourers to make use of his invention? what the wisdom of the legislator if there were no functionaries to carry his measures into force? In these and a thousand instances, the hand and the foot would be but of little use unless they were directed by the eye and the head; and the eye and the head would themselves be of little use if they were not connected with the hand and the foot. So true is it that we are "every one members, one of another."

5. Turn to the Church, a community knit together by spiritual ties. And here the interests of the various classes are so interwoven that it can only be through wilful ignorance that any suppose themselves independent of the others. It may be true that ministers may be likened, in the importance of their office, to the more important parts of body, to the eye or the head; but in prosecuting their honourable and difficult employment, they are dependent on the very lowest of their people. Recur to what we said about the humanising power of the appointed admixture of the poor with the rich. If the actual presence of suffering be the great antagonist to selfishness, then the poor of his flock must be the clergyman's best auxiliaries, seeing that they help to keep the rest from that moral hardness which would make them impervious to his most earnest remonstrances. You are to add to this that there is a worth in the prayers of the very meanest of Christians impossible to overrate. A rich man may feel attachment to his minister; and he has a thousand ways in which he may give vent to his feelings. But the poor man has little to offer but prayer, and therefore will he throw all the vehemence of his gratefulness into unwearied petitions for blessings on his benefactor.

6. On this great principle we uphold the dignity of the poor man, and the beneficial influence which he exerts in the world. Poverty will never degrade a man — nothing but vice can do that; poverty will never disable a man from usefulness, seeing that it cannot change his office in the body, and there is no office but what is material to the general health and strength. Why, then, are not our honest and hardworking poor to lift up their heads in the midst of society, in all the consciousness of having an important part to perform, and in all the satisfaction of feeling that they perform it faithfully and effectually?

7. We are "every one members, one of another"; and forasmuch as no man ever hated his own flesh, let it be seen that we are all animated with the spirit of charity. It is with reference to this principle that we are to be tried at the last. If we are all members of one body, Christ is the Head of that body; and, consequently, He accounts as done to Himself what is done to the meanest of His members.

(H. Melvill, B.D.)

I.In its UNITY.

II.In the PLURALITY of its members.

III.In the DIVERSITY of their functions.

IV.In their MUTUAL RELATION and dependence.

V.In the possession of ONE SPIRIT.

(J. Lyth, D.D.)


1. "We have many members in" the "one" natural "body"; and just so we, being diverse Christian members of His redeemed flock, "are one" mystical "body in Christ."

2. In the natural body every part is not so much a distinct unit in itself as a fraction of one great whole; and so in the Church (John 17:20, 21), not the individuality of the member, but the oneness of the whole community, is to demonstrate the truth of Christ's mission.

3. This unity can only be realised by having a governing Head. Only as we abide in real heart and life fellowship with Christ do we form a body that is "at unity in itself." If not bound together in the "unity of the Spirit," the body must decay and dissolve into a mass of lifeless, separate members.


1. That diversity is consistent with unity is shown by the analogy of our frame.

2. Diversity of vocation and function is consistent in Christians (1 Corinthians 12.). The Divine will is that each member should have a special function, but that all should work together for mutual help.

3. Diversity in unity is the foundation of all true beauty and usefulness (see laws of nature, waves of the sea, winds, clouds, human nature, etc.).Learn in conclusion —

1. We all belong to one another. None may say, "I have nothing to do with thee," nor plead, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Therefore every Christian should try —(1) To help his neighbour, to heal differences, and to strengthen the life and work of all Christ's people.(2) To refrain from speaking or doing anything that may hurt or vex any member of the body, since the Head is thereby pained (Acts 9:4) and the whole body shocked (1 Corinthians 12:26).

2. We are all necessary to each other — the rich to the poor and the poor to the rich; the sick to the hale as well as the hale to the sick. All can derive help from others, and all can give somewhat to others. All depend on each other in the wondrous "compacting together by that which every joint supplieth."


A row of richly-gilded pipes, stately and massive, reaching to the ceiling, stares majestically down upon us as we gather in our place of worship. They seem to say all the melody and music of the instrument is gathered within us, and we are the musical genii of the place, and when the keys are swept by a skilled artist how rich and grand are the tones evolved! They seem to be fairly alive, and our souls are stirred to the depths by the harmony. Desiring to know their relations to the hidden modest reeds, that we could faintly discern in the darkened chamber behind, we asked our organist what relation did they bear to their unseen companions, and what was their relative power compared with the small pipes. His reply was: "All front pipes speak with force and power, but they would be utterly valueless, so far as music was concerned, unless backed up and supported by the delicate reeds that are hidden within." How blessed the lesson taught the modest Christian workers in every Church! They look upon the few who occupy a prominent position as leaders, and in their timidity hide themselves, not allowing their own power to be felt, forgetful of the fact that all disciples are workers together with the Lord. In these days, when a few leading spirits are marvellously blessed by God, we must remember that their power is vastly increased by the sympathy and prayers of those whose names are only known to God. As the organ is incomplete if a single pipe is missing, and as it is thrown out of tune by a single reed not acting in harmony, so the Church is hindered from receiving a blessing, and its action impeded, if a single disciple is negligent of his or her duty. So let us in our quiet field toil on, pray on, knowing that he who is faithful unto death will receive the crown.

The practical aim of each man should be to perfect his own variety, not ape another's. A Luther could not be a Melanchthon. By no process could an Owen be made into a Milton. Individuality is indestructible. I am afraid that teachers and learners are often at fault in overlooking what is so very plain. You sometimes have ideal characters described and put before you for imitation, which never were and never will be realised, because they combine incompatibilities. Qualities are taken from men constitutionally different from each other, and you are told to be all that is represented in some unnatural amalgam. But God requires of you no such impossibility. Be yourself — that is the Divine will. Mature and perfect by His grace the gifts He has bestowed. Resist all easily besetting sins, and cultivate all possible good. Not excusing yourself for only doing what pleases you; for omitting acts of self-denial; for being one-sided, self-indulgent, and peculiar; strive to be as comprehensive in excellence as you can, without attempting to obliterate the stamp of your own individuality. Bunyan was a wise man, and therefore did not crush all imaginable good qualities into his Christian, but distributed them amongst a number of individuals; painting the picture of different pilgrims, and assigning to them varied offices of wisdom and love.

(J. Stoughton, D.D.)

Consider —


1. Our bond of union.

2. Our mutual dependence.

3. Our individual interest.


1. Love.

2. Sympathy.

3. Help.


1. Care and diligence.

2. Patience and perseverance.

3. Love and cheerfulness.

(J. Lyth, D.D.)

There arose a fierce contention in the human body; every member sought another place than the one it found itself in, and was fitted for. After much controversy it was agreed to refer the whole matter to one whose name was Solomon Wise-in-his-own-conceit. He was to arrange and adjust the whole business, and to place every bone in its proper position. He received the appointment gladly, and was filled with joy and confidence. He commenced with finding a place for himself. His proper post was the heel, but where do you think he found it? He must needs be the golden bowl in which the brains are deposited. The natural consequences followed. The coarse heel bone was not of the right quality nor of the suitable dimensions to contain the brains, nor could the vessel intended for that purpose form a useful or comely part of the foot. Disorder ensued in foot, head, face, legs, and arms. By the time Solomon Wise-in-his-own-conceit had reconstructed the body, it could neither walk, nor speak, nor hear, nor smell, nor see. The body was, moreover, filled with intolerable agony, and could find no rest, every bone crying for restoration to its own place — that is to say, every one but the heel bone; that was mightily pleased to be in the head, and to have custody of the brains.

(Christmas Evans.)


1. There is one source of activity and life in every human body, and so there is in the Church. There are various spheres in which we live and act. Those who possess natural and intellectual life can enjoy the beauties of nature, the endearments of friendship, the activities of business, the quiet of home, but all the while they may have no sympathy with that which is heavenly; but those who are possessed of spiritual life rise to a higher existence in which love prompts to unwearied activity in the service of God; and the source of this life is Christ. But our Lord came not only that we might have life, but that we might have it more abundantly; and, aware of the influence of association and sympathy, He gathers together His followers into a society in which they may help one another. But, just as with the individual, so with the Church. It is not the most scriptural doctrine, or the most apostolic discipline, or the most impassioned preaching, or the most crowded assemblies that can ensure the greatest prosperity, but the presence of Christ.

2. In this one body there must be harmony of character, or it would resemble the image of Nebuchadnezzar. There will be differences of gifts because there are differences of functions, but there must also be fitness for association, and to form a secure union all the members must be renewed by the Holy Spirit, be joined to Christ by a living faith, and exhibit the beauties of a consistent character.

3. In this oneness of the Church there is identity of interest. If one member of the body suffer, all the members suffer with it; and if one member is in health, all the members rejoice with it. Suppose a kingdom begins generally to decline, and there should be one profession which, for a time, continues prosperous, this cannot last long. And so in the Church. If discord springs up between those who ought to be bound together in the purest love, if error thrusts aside the doctrine of the Cross, if apathy spread over the people, if prayers are frozen and heartless, there may be members who will retain their spirituality for a time, but by and by they will yield to the general influence. But if peace binds Christians together — if the truth is maintained in its integrity, etc. — then each member will enjoy the benefit of the prosperity of. the whole, and will find how blessed it is for them all to have one interest. And yet how frequently Church members seem to take but little interest in one another! They will see the declension of a brother and never warn him, the suffering of a brother and never sympathise with him, the want of employment of the gifts of a brother and never suggest to him that he should employ his gifts. And where there is this want of reciprocal benefit a Church rapidly declines.

4. The Church ought to have one aim. The body is created to show forth the glory of God. You see His glory in the works of nature around, in His word of truth, but chiefly in the grand work of redemption. But then, if a multitude of mankind never study this work of redemption, they cannot see its glory; and, for the most part, people will say, "We judge of the value of that system of redemption by its fruits"; and therefore ought we both by life and lip to recommend the gospel.

II. EACH INDIVIDUAL MEMBER HAS HIS APPROPRIATE DUTIES TO PERFORM. It is by division of labour that so much can be done. One seems more fitted to advise, another to execute; one to warn and terrify, and another to cheer and comfort; and so all are called upon to employ their powers for some useful purpose.

1. All members must feel that they have joined the Church not only to receive good, but to do good.

2. Each member should strive to concentrate his efforts on the particular Church to which he belongs. Wherever there is diffusion there is a waste of power. Concentration is strength, and when God points out in His providence the particular Church to which we are to belong, He thereby points out the particular field in which we are to work.

3. The member who is doing nothing is worse than useless. When a limb is paralysed it only impedes the body. And let every person in Church fellowship remember that he cannot be simply neutral. If he is not doing good he is doing harm. His coldness benumbs, his example discourages others.

4. Every real member is essential to the completeness of the body. Every member of the human frame, however apparently insignificant, is essential. We are sometimes very poor judges of who is the best member. We are thankful for men of rank, wealth, influence, and talents, but we thank God also for the humblest spiritual Christian, whom, perhaps, God may see to be doing a greater work than those who seem great in the eye of the world.

5. All the members bear a close spiritual relationship to each other. Surely, then, there ought to be great sympathy and affection between them, because, when we have a common object and character, we generally feel sympathy and love.

6. If we are members one of another, there ought to be the absence of pride and of all assumption. God has ordained the different ranks in society, and He does not wish those ranks to be obliterated. The believing servant is not to show want of respect to the believing master, and the believing master is not to oppress the believing servant. But as members of the same Church all worldly distinctions disappear. We are all one in Christ.

7. As members one of another we ought always to aim at one another's benefit. "Bear ye one another's burdens," etc.

(J. C. Harrison.)

What the circulation of the blood is to the human body, that the Holy Spirit is to the body of Christ which is the Church. Now, by virtue of the one life-blood, every limb of the body holds fellowship with every other, and as long as life lasts that fellowship is inevitable. If the hand be unwashed the eye cannot refuse communion with it on that account; if the finger be diseased the hand cannot, by binding a cord around it, prevent the life-current from flowing. Nothing but death can break up the fellowship; you must tear away the member, or it must of necessity commune with the rest of the body. It is even thus in the body of Christ; no laws can prevent one living member of Christ from fellowship with every other; the pulse of living fellowship sends a wave through the whole mystical frame; where there is but one life, fellowship is an inevitable consequence. Yet some talk of restricted communion, and imagine that they can practise it. If they be alive unto God they may in mistaken conscientiousness deny their fellow Christians the outward sign of communion, but communion itself falls not under any rule or regulation of theirs. Tie a red tape round your thumb, and let it decree that the whole body is out of fellowship with it; the thumb's decree is either ridiculously inoperative, or else it proves injurious to itself. God has made us one, one Spirit quickens us, and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus; to deny fellowship with any believer in Jesus is to refuse what you must of necessity give, and to deny in symbol what you must inevitably render in reality.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

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