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What Is Spiritual Service? Romans 12

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Romans 12:1-8

Stephen Caswell © 2004

Servant hood

The Navigators are well known for their emphasis on having an attitude of servant hood. A businessman asked Lorne Sanny, then president of the Navigators, how he could know when he had a servant like attitude. Lorne replied, by how you act when you are treated like one. D.L. Moody said, The measure of a man is not how many servants he has, but how many men he serves. There's no limit to the good we can do, if we don't care who gets the credit. 

Today, I want to address the question, what is spiritual service?  To answer this question we will look at Romans 12:1-8. Paul describes spiritual service as complete dedication to the Lord Jesus Christ. Anything less is not spiritual service. Paul describes our Dedication To Service and our Demonstration Of Service.  He then talks about our Diversity Of Service.

Firstly     Dedication To Service


a. Present Our Bodies


Romans 12:1: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.


The word therefore links God's mercy with our service for Him. In the first 11 chapters of Romans Paul records what God has done for us. In mercy He forgave us, in grace He gave us eternal life. He has given us the Holy Spirit for life and service. He has reserved an inheritance for us in heaven. On top of this He helps us each and every day when we ask Him. In response to this shouldn't we give our bodies as living sacrifices? Surely this is the least we can do. This is reasonable service, isn't it? Any thing less is ingratitude. If Jesus was a living sacrifice, shouldn't we be living sacrifices too?


But, why does Paul beseech us when he could command us to be living sacrifices? Because he appeals to a greater motivation, love. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15: For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. C. T. Studd said, If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice that I make can for Him could be too great. He went to China as a missionary.


Unfortunately, Christians tend to divide their lives into sacred and secular. God makes no such distinction. He wants all of us lock, stock and barrel; not just 10%. He wants us to live for Him at work, home, play and in the community. He wants us to use our recreation time for him and to use our homes to minister to our neighbors and unsaved friends. He wants all of us as a living sacrifice.

Colossians 3:16-17: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

b. Present Our Minds


Romans 12:2: And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,


An important part of dedication is having the right outlook on life. If we want to develop godly values and goals we must first renew our minds. The word transform metamorfow means to change, to transfigure. This word was used of Jesus Christ at the transfiguration. Our English word metamorphosis comes from this word. It means to change something from the inside out. The world wants to change our mind, so it exerts pressure from without. But the Holy Spirit can transform our minds by releasing power within as we meditate on God's Word. What we put into our minds will determine our attitudes and ultimately our lifestyle.

Christians who have trouble living holy lives can only blame themselves if they don't spend time in God's Word. Computer experts have a saying for computers that aren't producing correct information. GIGO. It's an abbreviation for garbage in garbage out. We must renew our minds if we desire to be Dedicated to God. Both the presentation of Our Bodies and Our Minds are necessary before we can know God's Will.


c. Present Our Will


Romans 12:2: that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.


Your mind controls your body, and your will controls your mind. Many people think they can control their will by willpower, but usually they fail. This was Paul’s experience. He recorded this struggle in Romans 7:15–21. It's only when we yield the will to God that His power can take over and give us the willpower and the won’t power to be victorious Christians. We surrender our wills to God through disciplined prayer. As we spend time in prayer, we surrender our will to God and pray, with the Lord, Not my will, but Thy will be done. We must pray about everything, and let God have His way in everything.

Florence Nightingale At 30

Florence Nightingale at thirty wrote in her diary, I am thirty years of age, the age at which Christ began His mission. Now no more childish things, no more vain things. Now, Lord, let me think only of Thy will. Years later, near the end of her illustrious, heroic life she was asked for her life’s secret, and she replied, Well, I can only give one explanation. That is, I have kept nothing back from God.

A practical way to do this is to surrender our bodies to the Lord each new day. Then to spend time with the Lord in His Word and let Him transform our minds and prepare our thoughts for that new day. We should pray, and yield the plans of the day to Him and let Him work as He sees best. We must especially pray about those tasks that upset or worry us, and allow God to see us through. We start each day by yielding our bodies, minds, and wills to God.



Is your desire to serve to the Lord? Paul reveals three things that are necessary for us to offer spiritual service to God. Firstly, have you presented your body to God as a living sacrifice? Is He the Lord of all your life? Secondly, are you renewing your mind each day in God's Word? Are you allowing the Holy Spirit to transform your life from within? Our minds determine our actions. Thirdly, have you surrendered your will to God? Our wills control our minds. Are you proving God's will in your life? Do you dedicate each day to the Lord?


Secondly    Demonstration Of Service


a. Evaluate Our Spiritual Gifts


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.

Each Christian must know what his spiritual gifts are and what ministry, or ministries he is to exercise in the local church. It is not wrong for a Christian to recognize gifts in his own life and in the lives of others. What's wrong is the tendency to have a false evaluation of ourselves. There are two extremes to avoid. Firstly, overrating our spiritual gifts. Nothing causes more damage in a local church than a believer who overrates himself and tries to perform a ministry that he cannot do. He claims to have spiritual gifts that God hasn't given.

Secondly, underrating our spiritual gifts. Some Christians undervalue themselves. They won't use their spiritual gift because they believe their gift is insignificant. Both attitudes are wrong. The gifts that we have came because of God’s grace. They must be accepted and exercised by faith. Just as we were saved by grace, through faith, we must also live and serve by grace through faith. Since our gifts came from God, we can't boast about them. 1 Corinthians 4:7: For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? So let's be thankful for our gifts, accept them, and use them for God's glory.


Different Christmas Gifts  


At Christmas time everyone in the family receives a gift. Normally we receive different gifts. In fact gifts come in all shapes and sizes. But the good thing is that each gift is given with love from the giver. They believe that it is just the right gift for that person. If we imperfect humans give good gifts to each other how much more will God give the right gifts to us?


b. Exercise Our Spiritual Gifts

Romans 12:4-8: 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. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.


Sharing Christmas Gifts


On Christmas morning, the children in our family don't usually receive the same gifts. One gets a football, one a puzzle, another receives a doll house and another a table game. We give the gifts that we think are appropriate for each child. Even though they don't receive the same gifts we intend that all our children should benefit as they share their gifts. Sharing their gifts blesses both themselves and the other person. The same is true in the Christian church. God's intention is for the entire body to benefit from the spiritual gifts as they are shared.

God has given every believer a spiritual gift to use in the body of Christ. People have different gifts just like a human body has many parts. 1 Peter 4:10: As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. The word manifold means multicolored. Like the weaving in a beautiful tapestry. Peter encourages believers to use their spiritual gifts for the benefits of others. When we don't minister to each other we are in fact hurting ourselves since we're all in the body together.

A Handicapped Person


What happens when someone can't use their arms or legs because of a spinal accident? Or what if their heart doesn't function properly? They are severely limited in what they can accomplish. It's not normal or what God intended. In fact we say that they are handicapped. God has placed many different organs and parts in our bodies. All of them are needed. The ones we don't see often have the most important roles of all. Imagine someone saying this, since I can't see my heart I don't really need it. Yet your heart is vital. Yes we need all our members functioning at full capacity.

If this is true of our physical bodies how much more so of Christ's body? Some members in the body aren't doing anything because they don't think their gift is important. They think that the body will function fine without them. They draw life from the body but don't put anything back in. Today the body of Christ is severely handicapped because believers won't use their spiritual gifts. God wants us to use our spiritual gifts to their full potential.



Have you evaluated your spiritual gifts? Do you know what gift you have? Have you thought about how you can use your gift to help others? Spiritual gifts inventories can help here. Getting involved in something is an even better way to find it. Do you think about your gifts in a sober way? Or do you overestimate it? Do you underestimate your gift? Are you exercising your spiritual gifts in the body? Today the Church is handicapped because some members aren't using their spiritual gifts!! Are you causing the body to function without you? Are you using your spiritual gift to its full potential as God intended?  

Thirdly    Diversity Of Service  

Spiritual gifts divide into three groups, Speaking Gifts, Serving Gifts and Sign Gifts. The 4 lists given in Scripture are all different. There are many gifts, and there could  be other gifts. Ephesians 4:11: And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.


Unopened Gifts

It's always a blessing to open gifts at Christmas time and to find out what you received. Each gift is different and special. Kids quickly open their gifts because they can't wait to try out what they have been given. Can you imagine children receiving their gifts and storing them away unopened because they are a different shape to everyone else's gifts? But some believers are doing just this with their gifts. They are leaving their spiritual gifts unopened and unused. They don't know what they have and won't find out because their gift is different.

a. Speaking Gifts


1. Apostles - An apostle ajpostovlo", was someone sent with authority. Ephesians 2:19-20: says that they laid the foundation of the church. How? Firstly, they went out into all the world and planted the Churches. Secondly, they grounded them in solid doctrine. Thirdly, they appointed leaders over the churches. Finally, they wrote the New Testament. Apostles were appointed by Jesus Christ. They saw the risen Christ and worked miraculous signs. The apostolic gift ceased with the death of the apostle John. Only one foundation. 2 Corinthians 12:12

2. Prophets - Prophets profhvta", worked alongside the apostles in laying the Church's foundation. They preached the Word by direct revelation because the New Testament didn't exist yet. Their ministry involved both preaching and foretelling the future. Acts 13:1 lists six men who were prophets. Paul commanded the Churches to test all prophecies.


3. Word Of Knowledge gnwsew"; 4. Word of Wisdom sofia" - 1 Corinthians 12:8: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit. These people spoke words of wisdom and knowledge by the Holy Spirit. They instructed the Church before the New Testament had been written. After the New Testament was completed with the book of Revelation God withdrew the gifts of prophecy, tongues, knowledge and wisdom.

1 Corinthians 13:8-12: Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; (be idle, stop) whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect (New Testament) has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. Now we preach the finished New Testament. The perfect has come.

5. Evangelists - Evangelists eujaggelistav" boldly proclaim the Gospel. They preach on sin, righteousness and judgment. Unlike the other spiritual gifts evangelists exercise their gift primarily outside the Church amongst the lost. Acts 21:8 tells us that Philip had the gift of evangelism. Certainly his ministry amongst the Samaritans backs this up too. I am sure that there were others in the early Church that exercised this gift but aren't recorded for us. Peter and the rest of the apostles used this gift. Paul told Timothy to do the work of an evangelist in 2 Timothy 4:5. In fact, everyone has been given the responsibility of evangelizing the lost.

6. Pastor/ Teachers - Elders, Bishops Shepherds, and Pastors all refer to the same office. Pastors have 2 responsibilities. The word pastor poimevna" means shepherd. It describes one who watches over the sheep. The shepherd would walk before the flock and lead it. He would watch out for wolves from without and within. The word teacher didaskavlo" describes how he fed the sheep from God's Word. Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to serve as pastor of the Church there 1 Timothy 1:3. James was Senior pastor of the Jerusalem Church.

7. Teachers - Teachers didaskavlo" are listed in both Romans 12:7 and 1 Corinthians 12:28. Acts 13:1 lists six men that were prophets and teachers. Teachers instruct believers from God's Word. They impart doctrine to the flock. This is done in various ways. It includes teaching young sheep right through to mature sheep. Ministries such as Sunday School, Kids Club, Bible Studies for men and women along with Adult Bible Classes can  accomplish this.

8. Encouragers - Encouragers paraklhsi" are mentioned in Romans 12:8. Encouragers help Christians by sharing God's Word with them. Barnabas exercised this gift and was called by the 12 apostles the son of encouragement. They exhort believers to serve the Lord in light of God's promises and blessings. Romans 12:1 translates the same word beseech.

Ephesians 4:11-12: reveals how those with the speaking gifts equip the saints for the work of the ministry. And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.


b. Serving Gifts


1. Administration/ Ruling - Romans 12:8 calls this gift leading, προί̈στημι or ruling. Whilst 1 Corinthians 12:28 calls it government, κυβέρνησις or administration. There are many things in the Church that require preparation or oversight. Financial and secretarial tasks cannot be left undone. Larger churches employ full time administrators to manage these tasks.

2. Serving/ Ministering - Romans 12:7 and 1 Peter 4:11 both refer to ministry. The word minister is diakono" and means, a servant, a minister, a helper, a deacon. Acts 6: describes the ministry of the first deacons.  However you don't have to be a Church deacon to exercise this gift. Most usage's of this word in the New Testament don't refer to Church deacons. Pheobe was a servant.

In Romans 16:1-2. I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also. Tychicus was a minister, Ephesians & Colossians.

3. Giving - Only Romans 12:8 and 1 Corinthians 13:3 refer to this gift. Paul says those who have this gift should use it freely. Barnabas and others in the Early Church exercised this gift. People with this gift provide for the needs in the Church. They support missions and evangelism. God blesses them materially so that they can give. Because they are faithful stewards God keeps blessing them. They prove Philippians 4:19 in their lives daily.

4. Helps – Helps, ἀντίλημψις is mentioned once in 1 Corinthians 12:28: Basically it means to aid, to help, to do helpful deeds. I am sure usually when this gift is used people don't even know it. We just notice that everything runs smoothly because of these helpers behind the scenes. When things go wrong it's usually because the helpers are away or not using their gift! Aquilla and Priscilla probably had this gift. Onesiphorus may have had it too.


5. Mercy - Romans 12:8 refers to the gift of mercy, ἐλεέω. The gift of mercy involves showing care for the needy. This includes visiting the sick, caring for the disabled, and providing for the poor. Those ministering to these folk must be cheerful. They must not look down on them.


6. Faith - The gift of faith, πίστις is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:9 and 1 Corinthians 13:2. Acts 6:5 & 8: tell us that Stephen exercised this gift. Acts 11:22-24: records that Barnabas was a man full of faith too. Both these men were full of the Holy Spirit as well. So their faith was not a day dream that they concocted themselves. The gift of faith enables people to believe that God will work in a miraculous way. Their faith enables them to share their vision with others and pray for its reality. I believe that men like Hudson Taylor and George Mueller exercised this gift. Hudson Taylor began the China Inland Mission with no money whatsoever. George Mueller fed hundreds of orphans by his faith in God, often giving thanks for meals that hadn't arrived yet. When faith is exercised people begin great things for God and He blesses their faith bringing their vision to pass.

7. Discernment Of Spirits - Only 1 Corinthians 12:10 refers to this gift διάκρισις, πνεῦμα. Peter exercises this gift in Acts 5:1-11 and Acts 8:14-23. Peter knew when Ananias and Saphira lied about their gift to the Church. Paul exercised this gift in Philippi when he cast an evil spirit out of a servant girl who told fortunes. This gift needs to be exercised today. Christians accept anything supernatural as coming from God. Yet Paul says that Satan can perform lying signs and wonders. Discernment of spirits enables us to expose false teachers and miracle workers.


c. Sign Gifts


Mark 16:20: And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.

God used the sign gifts to confirm the Gospel. These miracles proved that God had ushered in the New Covenant. It also confirmed the Lord's ministers. Hebrews 2:3-4: how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will? After God had established the Church and inspired the New Testament He withdrew these sign gifts.


1. Miracles, δύναμις / Signs, σημεῖον / Wonders, τέρας - 1 Corinthians 12:10 & 28 record the gift of miracles. In the book of Acts the Apostles are said to have performed miracles, signs and wonders. Stephen, Philip, Paul and Barnabas also performed miracles. But they are the only ones in the New Testament.


2. Healing, ἴαμα - 1 Corinthians 12:9 & 28 record the gift of healing. Again this is limited to the apostles and their associates. These men healed the sick and even raised the dead. 


3. Tongues - The gift of tongues, γλῶσσα is recorded in 1 Corinthians 12, 13 & 14 and the Book of Acts. 1 Corinthians 14:22 says tongues are for a sign to unbelievers. This gift enabled believers to share the Gospel in a language that they hadn't previously known. In 1 Corinthians 12:30: Paul said that not all believers received this gift. In fact I believe only a small number of New Testament believers exercised the true gift of tongues. It enabled them to reach foreign unbelievers. Generally speaking this gift ceased in the Apostolic Age with the completion of the New Testament.

Today, on rare occasions a few missionaries have exercised this gift. These folk usually only experience this once and unexpectedly. They haven't sought it and have fully understood what they were saying to the lost. However, usually missionaries spend twenty to thirty years in learning the language and translating the Scriptures. Why don't the tongue speakers in the Church today go to the mission field? Because they don't have the biblical gift of tongues.


4. Interpretation Of Tongues - The gift of interpretation of tongues, διερμηνεία, enabled someone to interpret a language not previously known so that the Church could understand the message in tongues. This enabled the Church to be edified by the gift as well. The foreign unbeliever understood the language of the tongue and didn't need it to be interpreted.

A School Play

A young schoolboy was trying out for a part in the school play. His mother knew he had set his heart on it, though she was afraid he wouldn't be chosen. On the day the parts were awarded, she drove to school to pick him up. The young lad rushed up to her, eyes shinning with pride and excitement. Then he said some words to her that should remain a lesson to us all. I have been chosen to clap and cheer. I can also help with the props behind the scenes. In the same way God has chosen each one of us for different and special parts.

Conclusion  Today we have seen three things about Christian service.


Firstly       Dedication To Service

To serve the Lord we must first present our bodies, minds and wills to God. Have you offered these to God as a living sacrifice? Do you commit each new day to Him so He can use you?


Secondly   Demonstration Of Service

If we are fair dinkum about serving God we will demonstrate it by exercising our spiritual gifts in the Church. We will evaluate our gifts correctly and use them to their full potential. Are you using your spiritual gifts in the Church? If you have questions about this or where you can serve can I encourage you to speak to the pastor.

Thirdly     Diversity Of Service

God gives a great variety of spiritual gifts to the Church. All are needed if the Church is to grow into stature of Christ and be a perfect man.



Ephesians 3:20-21: Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

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