Click here for the reading: Romans 12:1-5.
This passage offers a wonderful opportunity to teach the basics of worship, an activity not of a certain time or place but of Sunday mornings and all of life, too. The term “Divine Service” should be taught as the name for what happens on Sunday mornings, but so long as people call the same thing “worship,” then the chance to teach the Bible definition of “worship” is a chance you shouldn’t pass up.
The worship Paul describes is a life of sacrifice. Blood is not necessarily offered; the Hebrews could worship faithfully yet not then to the point of shedding blood. The blood of bulls and goats is of course completely beside the point. The sacrifices God desires consist a life that is not conformed to the world but transformed in one’s mind so that the Christian comes to know what God desires in his life.
The overall shape of that twofold dynamic is clearer in view of the last three verses of the pericope. The world is defined primarily by a lack of humility. This results in an inability to function as a body where there are many different members with many different functions. Arrogance and boasting make one’s own gifts negligible or in need of no improvement and everyone else’s gifts the subject of constant critique. Thus Christ’s body, His temple, His living stones, are strewn every which way in utter disarray.
Instead, humility is the dressing of the living stone, making it fit properly into the structure of the building, as the stones of the first temple were dressed in the quarry and fit exactly when they were brought to Jerusalem. Humility gives a man sober judgment so that he can tell who he is and what he ought to be about – neither more nor less than he ought. He attends to the Lord’s gifts instead of his neighbor’s foibles.
Conformity to the world is arrogance; transformation of the mind is humility’s child. The mind is then attuned to what is good and acceptable specifically in one’s own life. The language of sacrifice is key. No one had to bring his neighbor’s goat or turtledove for sacrifice but only what was due from his household. No one must bring his neighbor’s gifts under scrutiny but only what he has to offer for the good of the body, the household of God.