Parts of the Whole

Lesson 46: Romans 12:3-5


Parts of the Whole

by Bob Burridge ©2012

My grandfather on my mom’s side of the family was a railroad Engineer on the Lackawanna Railroad. He was also quite a handyman and a hobbyist in mid 20th century electronics. In his basement he had drawers full of old vacuum tubes, resistors, capacitors, coils and every imaginable part of that era’s technology. I would follow him into his workshop and sit on a stool watching him work with his testing probes and soldering iron — bringing old radios back to life or making inventive circuits.

He showed me how to make a crystal radio out of just a stone, a needle, and scrap parts. I slowly learned how each of the strange looking components worked. I’d ask, “What does that little thing do? Why’s it important?” In his quiet, patient way he would explain as he went about his work.

Of course the parts were all important. No decent circuit designer would include components that didn’t serve a purpose. Some parts took a weak signal and made it much more powerful. Some stored up a charge, then fed it back through the circuit at regular intervals. Some would choke out certain frequencies and enhance others. Some held back the flow of electricity in one wire, making it flow more easily in another. Every little part, no matter how small or strange looking, was there for a reason.

Together they did what the circuit designer wanted to accomplish. By itself, each piece was just a puzzling little component in a drawer.

When our Lord gathers his people to form a church family, each part has a purpose. When individuals fail to see that they fit into the larger picture they easily can get discouraged. Paul warned the Roman Christians to appreciate how each person has a purpose in making the body function well.

Romans 12:3, “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.”

Paul was well aware that his message was not his own. It was given him by God’s grace. He was saved by the same grace that he had in common with all believers. His Apostolic office and duties were a special grace by which God used Paul to minister to the church.

He warned that we should have a healthy view of ourselves. We live in an age where self-gratification is considered the purpose of everything. Self-centeredness can make the quest for self-esteem become a disastrous obsession. That attitude never satisfies and usually leads to self-defeating abuses. We are warned here that we should not exalt ourselves unduly. We need to remember that we are each an important part of something much larger than ourselves.


The sin of self-exaltation, self-centeredness,
can show itself in two different ways.

The first is self-importance. Remember that you are just one small part of a whole work far greater than what you see. Our sinful hearts can so easily forget God’s grace which alone has enabled us whenever we succeed. It becomes easy to think of our abilities as works of our own raw efforts bettered by opportunities that come along randomly.

Every Christian needs to keep his successes in perspective. Maybe you have earned enough money that you are able to contribute to the church beyond just your tithes. Perhaps you have helped by counseling someone in Christ, taught a really good lesson, spent time to work on the church grounds, or have come to understand some profound biblical truth. If so, guard against becoming puffed up in your attitude. These are wonderful things to accomplish for the Lord, but never imagine that you accomplished them on your own, or that there is no one as valuable in the church as yourself. Guard against thinking you deserve special recognition or honor.

Pride can also show itself in self-pity. This is a more subtle symptom of self-centered thinking. At first glance, putting yourself down may seem the opposite of a high view of self. In reality, it maybe the more common way self-absorption shows itself. Even great prophets like Jeremiah, Elijah and Jonah had times when they struggled with this sin. To think that there is none so miserable, or ill treated and deserving of pity as yourself is a slight against God who has made you for what you are called to be and to do.

This self-centeredness sees God’s work only as it effects you. It diminishes the value of your gifts and contributions as if God has failed to give you enough. Professor John Murray said, “by underestimating, we are refusing to acknowledge God’s grace and we fail to exercise that which God has dispensed for our own sanctification and that of others.”

Self-pity can make you neglect what God has given you to be doing for his glory. A paralyzing self-deprecation ignores God’s enablement and diminishes the importance of his assignments for your life. You tend to not see how you are an important component in God’s plan.

In either case — self-importance or self-pity — we focus too much upon ourselves. We each need to take our place in the church, what ever it is, and to do it faithfully and diligently for Christ’s glory.

Paul then tells us that we should use sound judgment in serving Christ. That expression in this verse is translated in different ways. They each help us understand the flavor of Paul’s words. The King James and the New King James translate it, “think soberly.” The New American Standard has, “have sound judgment.” The New International combines the two ideas saying, “with sober judgment.”

The sound and sober judgment about our place in God’s Kingdom work is allotted to each with a measure of faith. It is God who not only gives us the gifts, but also our confidence to exercise them. We need to rest upon God’s revealed word to show us how to use our gifts, and to direct us to trust in his promise to enable us. We are to see our work as an important part of the whole.

When my grandfather taught me to fix old radio circuits, the first thing was to find the broken part. Sometimes it was a burned out vacuum tube. I remember taking a whole bag of glass tubes down to O’Malley’s Drug Store to test them on the tube testing machine. My parents came to trust me to do that job when electronic things broke down at our house. I learned to put each one into the machine, test the filament, test the vacuum of the glass tube, and then set the dials to check the performance of the component. Sometimes it was a bad capacitor, or resistor, or a shorted out coil. Just one of those little things would stop the whole TV, Radio, or Phonograph from working.

When we look at our lives we need to find out what elements need repair too. To serve Christ in the best way we need to have God diagnose the problem for us so we can turn to him to fix it. We pray with the Psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties;” (Psalm 139:23). Then we need to trust his power to mature us spiritually so that our part in the work of his Kingdom will be done well. When we are functioning as we should, we bring greater health to the whole church.

When we fail to trust God in our work, when we get too focused on how our little part is making us feel, we may be crippling the best functioning of the church of which God has made us an integral part. We must be at our best for the sake of the larger job that is to be done.

By faith we must follow God’s instructions, and boldly do what we are given to do. We should avoid worrying about how others may judge us, or how we measure up to others. Our concern should be how faithfully we carry out our own little job to advance God’s glory and to encourage other believers.

Awhile ago I got one of those e-mail stories that presented a very good little parable. A man who lived off in a remote cabin was told by the Lord that he had a job for him to do. He was shown a large rock in front of his cabin and told to push against the rock with all his might. The man obeyed day after day for many years. He would put in time every day pressing his shoulder against the rock and pushing with ever ounce of strength he could put into it. After a time the man became discouraged. The rock remained unmoved. He started to wonder what the point was. Why should he keep up the efforts when obviously it was doing no good. The man was troubled about his doubts and prayed to the Lord saying, “I have labored hard in your service, putting all my strength to do what you told me to do. But after all this time I have not budged the rock at all. What is wrong? Why am I failing?” The Lord’s compassionate response was this, “I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength. This you have done. I never said I expected you to move it. You have not failed. By obeying me, your arms, back, and legs have become strong, your heart and lungs are healthy. You have not moved the rock, but I had not expected that. When the rock is to be moved, I will move it.”

Our job is to do the specific duty God calls each of us to do, no matter how small or large it may seem. We should not let our own self-importance get in the way of obeying the Lord. We should neither become discouraged that we are not recognized by others for what we do, nor descend into self-pity that we do not have a more important place in God’s Kingdom. We cannot see how all things fit together just yet. When we make judgments like that we dare to be judging God.

When you wonder why you keep working so hard for little recognition, or when others seem to do better, or when you cannot see immediate success, remember; just push against the rock. The healthiest outlook is to keep in mind what God calls and enables you to do. Then do it diligently and humbly for his glory out of gratitude, and by the power of the Risen Savior.

Self-obsession only produces depression and discouragement. It is often self-destructive, even suicidal, when we dare to stand as judges over God’s success in what he does with us.

I recently read a number of suicide notes published in a psychology journal. They were written by young people, teenagers. I found one theme in them all that seemed to be the factor that drove these particular ones beyond reason. They became obsessed with introspection, with trying to understand themselves and life itself. They wanted to know how it all fit together and how they fit in. Being driven to madness by expecting to know what was beyond their finite abilities they tragically took their lives.

Paul learned to rest in the revealed promises of God as he went through hard times. He was ridiculed, forced to live under hardships, beaten, arrested, and hated. But he kept on because, as he said in Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Our duty is to keep pushing on the rock God has set before us.


Paul goes on to remind us that
we are not alone in our work

Romans 12:4-5, “For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function,so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.”

Paul compares the working of the Church with our physical bodies. One organism is made up of many members, many parts. They all differ in function, but each one is important.

The parts are mutually exclusive. That means that each has a unique job to do. In the human body we have eyes, ears, hands, feet, liver, lungs, heart, brain, and so on. No two are exactly alike. Each is suited to a particular task.

It is the same way in the body of Christ. God has given each of you your own unique background, resources, opportunities, and talents. Some are good at providing well cooked meals as nourishment for God’s people, with others we are glad they don’t cook. Some are good at repairing things, treating wounds, teaching classes, providing transportation, tutoring children, mowing lawns, pouring concrete, creating internet web sites, counseling, selling and buying, protecting, governing, showing tenderness, etc..

Regardless if your job is stirring souls, or stirring soup, each has his special place. Some get more attention and honor than others. Some get more reward and blessings. Each person should do his job to glorify God. Each has his rock to push against.

Together the parts are jointly exhaustive. This means that together they accomplish the larger goal. The digesting of food includes the work of each tooth, the enzymes in your mouth, stomach and intestines. Speaking is the work of lips, larynx, teeth, and tongue, as well as that of the brain which figures out what to say. The body would be rather immobile without each toe and the ankle tendons. All the organs, all the members work together to make up a fully functioning organism.

So also is the body of Christ. God blends together all the little components, each humble servant, to bring him glory. You might ask, “How does my little part help?” All are called to pray and attend worship. Some spend most of their days going to work or to school. Some mow the lawn, wash the windows, or drive a disabled person to the store or to a church service.

Do not look so closely at self that you miss how what you are called to do fits together with all the others. God’s kingdom is made up of many jobs, many parts. Together, we display the wonders of our Creator, the grace of the Redeemer, the kingship of the King, the tender care of the Good Shepherd.

Each of our churches is but one congregation adding its own work to that of all the other true churches here on earth in the 21st Century. We are each part of the larger work spanning the ages of history. This includes the congregations in Jerusalem under King David, in Antioch in the 1st century, or in Geneva in the 16th century under Calvin. Each is to do its part obediently pushing against the rock assigned by God.

What God enables you to do or to give must be done with joy, devotion, and competence. It must be done for God’s glory, for the good of the whole church. As servants of Christ’s kingdom, you must push on the rock with all your might, what ever rock God has set for you to push against. In God’s time he will move it. Our duty is to be faithful servants, using our gifts diligently for the honor of the King.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Back to the Index of Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans

About Bob Burridge

I've taught Science, Bible, Math, Computer Programming and served 25 years as Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Pinellas Park, Florida. I'm now Executive Director of the ministry of the Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
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