Rev. Effendi Susanto
Gratitude and Generosity
Bible Verses: Romans 12:1-8
Paul starts with “…by God’s mercy” on Romans 12:1 and ends with “We have different gifts according to the grace given us …” in Romans 12:8. These verses were like a “sandwich” where it started with God’s mercy and ended with the generosity that you show to others. Our life starts with God’s mercy and finishes with a gratitude life. Our life starts with the mercy God has given us which we should then pass on to others. Why does our life have to be a blessing to others? Why Paul wants us to end it with serving God? Why do we have to help and serve each other, especially in God’s church?
There are three main points covered from verse 1-8:
- Verse 1-2 explains about the relationship between us and God
- Verse 3 explains about the relationship within ourselves
- Verse 4-8 explains about our relationship with others.
We won’t be able to understand how big God’s blessing to us is before we serve others. We cannot start serving others before we sort out our own perspective about ourselves.
There are a few important points in these 8 verses. It is obvious that God’s mercy that started our lives. We worship and give offering to God not because we have owned it but God has shown us His mercy in the first place. You have been bought with high price, Paul said, so honour God in your life. As Paul reminded us his parting words with the elders from Ephesians that the church of God had been bought with His own blood, we should be shepherds of the church of God (Acts 20:28) This is the perspective which we should hold on to in our act of worship as God has first served us.
Why do we have to be a blessing to others? Why do I have to contribute to the needs to others? Here Paul mentioned that God has given lots of spiritual gifts in our lives. We not only have received one gift but there is more than one gift, we just haven’t revealed and seen them all in our lives.
Why do I have to serve others? We are not whole ourselves, we have weaknesses and we also need others to serve us. Just like our body when we walk, not only one part of the body functions but it’s the whole body. With this analogy, Paul was trying to remind us that we cannot be self-sufficient by ourselves, we need others. It is not a sin to admit that we have weaknesses, but by doing so we acknowledge our position that we can’t be self-sufficient without God’s mercy and blessing to us. We should realize that we’re just part of the whole and there is give and take in life.
Why we serve others? Romans 12:3 emphasises how important to have the right understanding of ourselves before we become a blessing to others and serve God. Paul advised us not to think highly of ourselves. This does not mean we should not have any ambition or have any future planning to aim for something that we have not achieved. What Paul meant here is we should be able to accept things the way it is now and shouldn’t be depressed about ourselves.
From Romans 12:1-8 Paul has raised two important channels, a vertical and a horizontal one. The vertical channel is where we receive the source of strength from above. The horizontal channel is what flows out of our lives. The vertical channel represents the gratitude channel where the horizontal channel represents the generosity channel.
We should have the concept of gratitude and generosity in our life. If the vertical channel is blocked we only concentrate on ourselves. If we put ourselves away from these two channels, we’re separating ourselves from God and things or other people around us. Gratitude signifies that we know vertically that God supplies us things. Generosity leads to the understanding that our lives shouldn’t just stop with us but should flow out to others.
What sometimes makes us less gratitude? There are three things that make us live without gratitude and generosity:
We always see the error and overlook what we have at the moment. We always think “if only…” If only I’m smarter, if only I’m richer, if only… We overlook what we already have. We won’t be able to show gratitude and generosity if we only see what we don’t have in life. This is quite common in our lives. When we meet someone new and beautiful with a mole, we will concentrate on the mole. We can easily spot an error or fault in our lives which lead to the inexistence of the gratitude and generosity.
We complain endlessly. Complain makes us unable to see the beauty of life.
We take things for granted. This is the main factor why people don’t appreciate life and God’s grace. If we have gratitude in life we won’t be taking for granted what God has given us without any prerequisite.
Generosity will eradicate the attitude of not having enough in life. There is no standard to what is “enough” in life. When we think we have reach the limit of having enough we will realize it is still not enough. Gratitude and generosity will eradicate the feeling of not having enough. A life that is full of gratitude and generosity is a life where we can appreciate and be grateful for what we have and not focus on what don’t have. When you live gratitude life of gratitude you wouldn’t be upset of an illness which hasn’t come yet. Generosity doesn’t only come when people have abundance in their lives, but it could come when one is not only focusing on what is missing from one’s life.
Gratitude and generosity are the two important channels which connect us to God who granted us the generosity.
That is why the first eight verses of Romans 12 from Paul were nicely intertwined. Firstly, God shows us His mercy. Secondly, we learn how to accept ourselves and soberly judge ourselves. This enables us to accept our condition as it is. You can’t stop other people to think less of yourself. But you have the right and courage to prove him wrong. If you think less of yourself in the first place, you can’t expect people to judge you otherwise. If you read self-esteem books, you’ll find the word “unconditional self-acceptance” which is the core of the solution. We all experienced low self-esteem, think less of themselves, and that’s how we have all been told to improve our ways of thinking. If we can’t accept ourselves who would? This acceptance is an unconditional acceptance. How do you ask one who hasn’t appreciated oneself to start accepting oneself? Romans 12:3 gave us the answer that is not to think of oneself higher than one ought to and to think of oneself in sober judgment in accordance with the measurement of faith God has given us. My interpretation to the measurement of faith here is not that we all have different faith but it’s in the same faith. We accepted ourselves based on this faith. I agree with Martin Luther’s definition of faith that is the acceptance of God’s acceptance. Faith means we accept God because he has accepted us in the first place. This is the right answer. However the secular psychology wouldn’t be able to accept this answer, they think only unconditional acceptance of oneself is the answer. Romans 12:3 told us to accept ourselves the way we are as God has first accepted us and only to look at what is not in you but to lean what is in you.
“God if only I have a lot of money, I could have done these.., if only I have an army to fight Pharaoh.., if only You came to me 40 years ago I could have defeated Pharaoh’s regime. But now the time has passed and I’m old, only the sheep will listen to me. I am retired and expired…,” said Moses. But God said, “Don’t look at what is not there, look what’s in your hand.” Bottom line is that you complain, you won’t and you dare not move forward because you only see what is missing from your life not what is in your life.
Romans 12:4-8 explain that we each have been given gifts that we could help and support each other. These gifts are not only for our consumption but they are for the church of God, for God’s fellowship. That’s the beauty of understanding that we are part of the whole. And accepting that we have weaknesses and need other people’s hands to help and care for us is a beautiful thing.
We then go into the gifts that God has given us in Romans 12:5-8. The prophecy gift and the serving gift are emphasised more than the teaching talent as referred to the original translation. If a man’s gift is teaching, let him teach, if it is counselling, let him counsel, if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously, if it is leadership, let him govern diligently, if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
Note that there are a few important things here:
The list of the gifts is different to the list in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 that it did not start with spiritual gift. Some interpreters see the gifts referred in Romans 12 as practical gifts for the local church. Paul was referring to the universal church when he was talking about church in Rome. In Romans 12:5 Paul directly talk about the gifts of word that is the teaching and prophecy. The next two gifts seem to refer to the deacons who are serving in the church. Paul continued with the gifts we have as fellowship in church. I believe that Paul was referring to the calling for us to serve together in local church.
Let us rectify our way of thinking as part of the church. We shouldn’t think of going to church as going to an institution or event or an entertainment thing. We should go back to the basics, the local church as God portray it as the body of Christ. We are all in the body of Christ. Every time I welcome a new person who comes to our church, I will ask the person to feel free to be part of the family member of the church. There are prayers we do together which we could make part the task of making the church our family. We could remind each other and there could be friction as part of being a family. Even though there would be friction, we will still be brothers and sisters in a family who will make it a beautiful thing in our life. We might say the wrong things, convey messages the wrong way, but when we realize we are part of the family all these could minimize the friction.
That is why we should see this from Paul’s calling which says if he has the gift for teaching, let him teach. If he has the gift to serve, let him serve diligently. Now we’ll see why I said that the later gift was the gift of one member of the church to the other. You can see the difference when it comes to the gift of counselling, let him counsel based on the qualification of the counselling. Paul didn’t only list down the gifts but also the qualification and the prerequisite of the gift for it to be performed. If the gift is the gift of teaching, let him teach. If the gift is the gift of encouraging, let him encourage. If the gift is the gift of contributing to the needs of others, let him give willingly. The word “willingly” here is sometimes translated as simplicity or generously. We learn to be generous to others not because we expect to get something in return. The word “simplicity” here was referring to the fact that people who are being generous have no hidden motives. Being generous comes from the heart and the knowing that we have received so much from God. I hope we could become a generous church. We should become Christians who are generous to others because if that channel is blocked we won’t have a balance life.
The interesting one is a gift of mercy which should be done cheerfully. For the Jews, showing mercy is an act of contributing to the poor. Here Paul is most likely referring to the act of a few people which could be very draining and spiritually demanding because this act is given to people who won’t be able to response or repay the act. For example, how we take care of the ill or the disabled or how to feed the poor who won’t be able to return the favour. If you have this type of gift, Paul is encouraging you to do it cheerfully. Paul realizes that this is draining and exhausting work. It would be easier to do this for a family member but not to other people who we’re not related to. Paul sees this as a special gift which should be done cheerfully without any grumble or whining. If it is done cheerfully, we’ll learn the difficulty and the tears involved. We will learn to pray and give hand to help as much as we can. Why? It’s because these are the two channels that harmonise our life, the channel of gratitude and the channel of generosity. We have gratitude because we know the source of our blessings and we need to channel this abundance of blessings generously to balance it out. This is the beauty of living as the children of God.(fang)