I am fascinated by the presidential and vice-presidential debates. Having been on the debate team all four years of my high school days, I find these political ponderings amusingly fascinating because these “debates” are not debates, as I understand debate. I understand the Lincoln-Douglas type and the cross-examination or policy type. Truth is I wish these presidential and vice-presidential debates were called what they really are: glorified press conferences in which one candidate can point out the number of times his or her opponent didn’t tell the whole truth or no truth. Go figure. It wouldn’t pay for me to be the moderator or more appropriately in a true debate, the judge. The Secret Service would be all over me for chiding the candidates for their ineptitude at “debate,” let alone their inability to answer a question outright.
Part of my fascination is body movement. Sometimes the body language says it all. I loved the vice-presidential debate a week and a half ago. Those who watched Senator Biden and Governor Palin picked up on some things like the senator’s grin and smile and the governor’s occasional winks to the audience. Then at the Town Hall gathering at Belmont University in Nashville, Senators McCain and Obama were very deliberate in their body language. It was most telling after it was over when the two Obamas and the two McCains were on the stage speaking to the audience. At one point the four of them were in close proximity of each other. Not a word was said. There were no handshakes, no hugs, and certainly no kisses on the forehead. Work with me! The closer they were to each other, the more grimacing the looks became. At one point Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain looked at each other. It wasn’t a happy gaze either. I thought, “We’re getting ready to see a cat fight right here on national TV.” I then thought, “These people really don’t like each other.” Later I heard a commentator say, “The body language said it all.”
The body language does say a lot. Communication by way of using body movements or gestures instead of, or in addition to, sounds, verbal language, or other communication is good for communication just like the governor’s winks and the senator’s smiles and the McCains’ and Obamas’ snarls. Body language. You use it and so do I. I mean a preacher can’t be a preacher unless he or she uses body language. I read that somewhere in the Book of Ninth Hezekiah. Sometimes the body language is good. Sometimes it is bad. Regardless, body language does say a lot – whether it’s in a real debate in the Lincoln-Douglas or cross-examination types or in nothing more than a glorified press conference.
The author of 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament understood body language. But the kind of body language he understood had nothing to do with smiles and winks and snarling looks. Rather the body language he understood was that of community. For Paul, body language is how the community relates to itself. For a community of faith to be a community, much more than smiles and winks and snarling looks are needed.
Romans 12:3-8 tells us that we live out our transformed existence in community. And a transformed community has good body language that is founded upon the centrality of each member possessing a fair and sober estimate of him or herself that is in line with the Christian faith and with the spiritual gifts with which he or she has been blessed by God.
Paul notes that he has been “given the grace” (v. 3) to tell the Romans that foundational to good body language is for the believer to be overtaken by a specific mind-set in which all members of the church are to guard against their own inflated self-opinion. “…I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think… (v.3). The New Jerusalem Bible renders this phrase, “…never pride yourself on being better than you are.” The Contemporary English Version states it this way: “…I tell each of you not think you are better than you really are.”
It could be implied that some of the Romans are thinking they are better than others. That’s not what the text says, however, so let’s not make that implication. There is no indication that there is a put down of another in this church. There is no suggestion of the “I’m better than you” frame of mind. Instead, it suggests something more personal and individual. Each person in the community is to have a healthy view of him or herself that is established upon humility as if there was no other person on earth.
But because there are other persons on earth, believers and non-believers, if one’s view lacks humility and is not held in check, it will turn into the “I am better than you” frame of mind, especially in relationship to other believers. Don’t think this can happen? Read First Corinthians. Don’t think this can happen? Watch some selected TV preachers. I saw one recently chiding the worshippers for not taking notes while he was preaching. He said, “I can’t believe you aren’t taking notes on what I’m saying. I can’t believe you aren’t writing this in the margin of your Bibles. My words are God’s words.” His body language was saying that, too.
We are not to go all-out for a bogus or tactless humility. Rather, we are to be sensible about our abilities and our inabilities. So how do we quantify ourselves? We do so by the “measure of faith that God has assigned” (v. 3b). This is not a measuring rod containing different amounts of faith. It is the same for all. Faith here refers to the belief in Christ as Lord and that God has raised Him from the dead.
This is the faith that God has assigned. We measure ourselves against the standard of the principles of the Christian Faith that are most readily observed in Jesus Christ. Everybody has the same measuring instrument – The Good News. So when we assess ourselves individually, we do so by looking carefully at the Gospel and its requirements – taking up the Cross and following Jesus. And if we do that objectively and realistically, we circumvent any thoughts of supremacy in communal relationships and are able to maintain a proper sense of our places within God’s scheme of things.
It is just like a human body. A body has many parts or members – head, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, neck, upper chest, lower chest, arms, legs, and so forth. All parts or members depend on each other. Last night Jackie and I went to hear the Carroll Symphony Orchestra at the Townsend Center. It was wonderful. I watched the body language of those gifted musicians. The body of the orchestra has many parts, many members – violins, violas, cellos, bases, oboes, flutes, clarinets, percussion, and brass. It took all working in concert to produce a concert. In the same way, the body of Christ has many members. Each of us is different. Each of us is unique. Each of us functions within the confines of the gifts we’ve been given to minister. But it takes all working together in concert to produce good body language. Such body language may be found in gifts that include, but are not limited to, the seven mentioned in verses 6-8.  
“Prophecy” might be something in the future. More often, however, it is an insight into current circumstances. It is be controlled by the faith – one’s own faith in Christ. So those with this gift are to speak in accordance with the standard set by one’s own faith in Christ. One is to be careful not to interject one’s own opinions into their prophecy, for those may not be “in proportion to faith.” The word “proportion” comes from a word that translates “analogy.” The one who prophesies is to do so on the basis of an “analogy” of faith. One’s word is to resemble the Christian Faith.
“Ministry” translates the word for service. It can refer to service in general among the believers since all are servants. But here in the context of Romans, it probably refers to the ministry performed by deacons, the special activities of the Deacon Body: ministering to the church by organizing and providing for material needs of the community, such as those in Acts 6:1-6.
“Teaching” involves passing on the truth. The teacher is to study God’s word and be rooted in the tradition of the church so he or she can guide the community into truth and preserve it from error. “Exhortation” is the activity of encouraging Christians to live out the truth of the Gospel. The word can also translate “comfort,” “encourage,” and “console.” It is from the word, paraklete, which means to “come along one’s side.” Paraklete is used to describe the ministry of the Holy Spirit in John’s Gospel.
“Giving” is to give a share of something from the person who has this gift. This is the sharing of one’s personal food or wealth, for example, and not from the benevolence of the body at large. It is to be done with liberality or “generosity,” which comes out of the single-mindedness of the person of faith who is generous because the person who gives relies so completely on God and therefore is set free from personal possessions. There is no ulterior motive in the giving.
“Leading” translates a word meaning “the one who rules.” Again, in the context of Romans, this is a reference to the person who has the gift of leading the church – the pastor. But it can also mean “to be concerned about”, “care for”, or “give aid” in the sense of protection. This is to be done with “zeal” or diligence. “The compassionate” literally translates “one who shows mercy.” It can refer to many acts of mercy in general. It is sensitivity to the needs of others and is more commonly used of those who give themselves to visiting the sick and other suffering people. And it is to be done “cheerfully.” I might say that Tabernacle does this well.
We are a particular kind of community – a diverse, yet unified body and the body language is important. Our identity is not nationalistic or ethnic. It is “in Christ” as the text notes. Each member is needed. So an active membership and a practice of mutual support in both giving and receiving without over-dependence on any one member or function are necessary.
We are “members of one another” (v. 5b). In Christ we are His body, inescapably joined to the other members of the local community. As we function with each other, we realize that the body is the principle medium of Christ’s presence in the culture. And when we seek to be the presence of Christ in the culture, we are evidencing our transformation and renewal that ultimately influences someone else’s life, even if we don’t see it for years or never see it in this life.
During the summer of 1979, between college graduation and entering seminary, I took a job on the grounds crew at my alma mater, Western Kentucky University. I did a little of everything: mowed, trimmed, cut and laid sod, watered flower beds, emptied trash cans, picked up debris, and so forth. I even used a jackhammer. I made the decision that I wasn’t going to tell those with whom I worked that I was a preacher, figuring they would find out sooner or later. I just wanted to try modeling Christ apart from my identity as a preacher to see if I could do it and do it quietly. I worked with some of the most dejected people imaginable – uneducated, pagan beyond pagan, from the other side of the tracks. Their language would have made Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon turn red. (Presidents Johnson and Nixon were very crude in their language, by the way.)
I mentioned using a jackhammer. I was put on a 110-pound jackhammer one day. Keep in mind at the time I only weighed 120 pounds. I didn’t do so well. Rock and rubble and dust were going all over me, especially in my face. I couldn’t control the thing. My foreman and his supervisor were just laughing. Finally, I pushed it aside. My foreman shouted, “Pick that jackhammer up, boy!” I responded, “Not until you get me some safety equipment like a hardhat and goggles and good gloves.”
“We don’t have any of that stuff and we don’t have to do to do that. Now pick up that jackhammer.”
“Nope,” I said. “Not until you take care of me and these guys with me.”
“You are about to get fired,” he said as he got in my face.
“And I’m going to call OSHA,” as I got in his.
You would have thought that I had just said I was a personal friend with every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and that the Green Beret and Navy Seals were about to descend upon the upper echelon of supervision of the Grounds Crew at WKU. My friends, those dejected souls with whom I labored, asked me as the foreman and his boss got on the radio with somebody higher up than they, “What’s OSHER?” I explained and then told them at least for the summer I’d do my best to take care of them. When one asked why I would do that, I said, “You guys have rights – particularly when it comes to safety. Besides I just think you ought to be treated better than you are being treated.” I never used the jackhammer again and neither did any of my friends without safety equipment.
Those guys found out that I was a preacher. We had some fun with that. Since the church I pastored was literally on “the other side of the tracks,” some of the guys came a time or two. They fit right in with the congregants who were like them – perceived as the nobodies of the world, scum of the earth, illiterate, poor, and living from paycheck to paycheck, often incapable of managing their money. As we were working one day, one of them asked me, “Do you mind reading the Bible to a couple of us. We can’t read.” So during our lunch break each day, until I departed for seminary, I read the Bible to some of those guys. I just read. I used the Good News for Modern Man. I never attempted to explain what I was reading. They simply wanted to hear the Scriptures, so I read to them from a very understandable translation.
I departed for seminary. None of them ever came back to the church I pastored. In fact, I never saw any of them again. Three years later I was graduated from seminary, married Jackie, and moved to a church across town where I served for four years. Then the Lord called me to Owensboro. One of those guys, with whom I had worked nearly eight years prior, called me out of the blue one day just before we moved. It was providential. He was one of those to whom I had read the Bible at lunch each day. He had no idea I was moving. He said, “I just want you to know that I got saved and baptized and that I’m learning how to read and write. I’m still working on the grounds crew and been telling people about Jesus. As soon as I learn how to read, I’m going to read the Bible to the others if they will let me.” I told him I was proud of him and then shared of our move. He concluded the conversation, “Thank you for telling us about OSHER. We never forgot that. And thank you for reading the Bible to us.”
I was taken aback. I was humbled. I never dreamed some of those guys – any of those guys for that matter – would get it. But at least one of them did. I asked God to forgive me for not believing something good could happen through simply reading the Scriptures to men who couldn’t read and telling them about “OSHER.”
All kinds are needed in the body. We are members of each other. We need each other. The world needs our body. And all kinds of body language are needed. So let us make sure that the language of the body is always good. Remember that good body language contains more than winks and smiles and snarls at which presidential and vice-presidential candidates are good. Good body language is filled with grace and the grace-gifts of good words and good actions. So go ahead and read the Scripture to somebody, make a visit to someone sick, and give with generosity. And if you need to, tell somebody about OSHA.

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