“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” Rom. 12:1
Paul’s Biography in Three Words: Wrath to Grace
As we know, Paul shed a lot of Christian blood in the early years of the Church. He deserved the death penalty for his crimes. He thought he was serving God, but his understanding of God and God’s covenant was severely deficient.
In a blinding flash, the risen Lord appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, as he was on his way to commit murder. Christ plucked him out of his sinful, rebellious, treacherous lifestyle; gave him a new heart and a new mind; and gave him a calling.
In chronicling the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, Paul writes,
And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that I am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Cor. 15:8–9)
Paul understood the death penalty was on his head for murder (Exod. 21:12). He understood he was a dead man, judicially. Yet, in God’s perfect and gracious providence, He plucked him out of covenantal death and dropped him into covenantal life—salvation.
But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (1 Cor. 15:10)
Paul elsewhere states that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1 Tim. 1:15). As we see, Paul had nothing to boast of. In 1 Corinthians 4:7, he writes,
For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why doest thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?
Yet this man, as we saw earlier, was called by Jesus Christ to be an apostle!
“Not For That We Have Dominion Over Your Faith”
St. Paul, of all people, should have the right to lord his superior knowledge and wisdom over others. After all, not only was he called by Jesus Christ as the last apostle, but he wrote more of the New Testament than any other writer. Can any of us say the same?
Yet Paul understood the basic principle of leadership and authority in the Bible: service. Jesus says, in Mark 10:
But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be the servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:42–45)
In 2 Corinthians 1:24, Paul demonstrates this understanding. He wrote, “Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.”
Paul understands that he did not have dominion, or lordship, over their faith in any sense. In fact, the word translated have dominion is the same word used for lordship in Luke 22, where Jesus made the exact same point as He did in Mark 10.
In 2 Corinthians 1:24, the word translated helpers is the same word we get synergy from. Paul is a teammate, a coworker, a companion with the saints in Corinth. He wants to see their faith established through the power of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.
What does all this have to do with Romans 12:1?
By and large, Paul refused to give orders. His chosen mode of communication was through entreaty. He did not say, “Obey me, as I am an Apostle, Ph.D: Present your bodies as living sacrifices.” He asked them humbly. He entreated them. He came before them and besought them to make the decision themselves, as self-governing Christians, and voluntarily offer their bodies as living sacrifices. He did not throw his weight around.
Where did we come from? What are our pasts like? Do we have glowing histories ourselves?
We probably aren’t axe-murderers, but we hardly have Paul’s credentials. We’re no more entitled to power through people and boss them around – even kindly and gently – then Paul was. Our goal must be humble entreaty, service, and encouragement. We must seek to cultivate maturity from the heart, not force it onto people from the outside.
Only God has true Lordship. He is, after all, the Creator. We are the creature. We are not nor can we ever be like Him in this aspect. Our duty is to serve those who are “under” us in terms of Christ’s lordship, not be little gods ourselves.
We will see this principle of servant-authority further in Romans 12, but suffice it for now to ask, “How am I lording my perceived authority over others? How am I being a boss, rather than encouraging self-government?”
Questions & Actions
Sit down with your spouse, children, or employees – one on one, or corporately if feasible. Have a short conversation with them at the beginning of the day.
- Ask them, “What are one or two things I can do to lessen my top-down lordship, and serve you practically instead? Am I micromanaging you in any areas? Am I forcing decisions on you which you would prefer I get your counsel on?”
- Ask them, “What are one or two practical tools you need to function better? More space? New software? A more flexible schedule? How can I help you?”
Make a list of these things—and make a point to begin working on those list-items as soon as possible.
Then, reflect privately to yourself:
- “What are three ways I can encourage and entreat [my husband/wife/children/employees] in something specific, rather than directing or bossing? What are some particular things I can speak words of encouragement on today?”