A Study of Exhortation:
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3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
The first two exhortations in Romans 12, verses 1 and 2, concerned the Christian’s relationship to God. This exhortation, and the ones in subsequent verses, concern the Christian’s relationship to other Christians, as we all form the Body of Christ. These exhortations deal with principles for being successful as a Body in doing the work of God. Specifically, in this verse, Paul exhorts believers to have a correct view of themselves and to determine what gifts God desires them to use in serving Him.
In the first verse of Romans, Paul made an appeal by “urging” the Romans to offer themselves as a living sacrifices. In the second verse, he commanded them (by the words “do not”) not to be conformed to the world. In this verse, he gives them an exhortation using his authority as an apostle by saying “by the grace given me”. This reflects how important Paul considers this exhortation. Paul took his role as an apostle seriously because by it, he had the authority to exhort and instruct his fellow believers.
Note that Paul is speaking to “every one”. This exhortation applies to “every one” because each person is given spiritual gifts to use in the work of God; thus, it is necessary that each person examine himself “with sober judgment” in order to determine the gifts and the level of service God desires for his life. Also, this exhortation applies to “every one” because we all tend to have an incorrect view of ourselves; thus, it is necessary that each person examine himself “with sober judgment” in order to get a correct view of himself. Either we view ourselves too modestly, so that do not live up to our potential; or we view ourselves too proudly, so that we see ourselves as having gifts that we do not have.
Most often, we view ourselves too proudly, thus, Paul says: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought”. God hates pride: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (I Pet. 4:5). Pride is sin: “Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin!” (Prov. 21:4). God often warns against it in His Word: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (Prov. 11:2); “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 21:4); etc. Perhaps the reason the God hates pride so much is that pride was at the root of Satan’s fall. Isaiah relates the thoughts of Satan before His fall: “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (Isa. 14:13-15).
In order to battle pride and to develop a correct view of ourselves, we must be able to, in a sense, step out of ourselves and view ourselves objectively. As Paul puts it: “Think of yourself with sober judgment”. Now, it is difficult to think of ourselves “with sober judgment” unless the exhortation in Romans 12:2 has been followed. Paul, in Romans 12:2, exhorts us not to be conformed to the world. The way of the world is to exalt oneself. The way of the world is to say “I can do anything I want!”. The way of the world is to strive to be number one. This is not the way of God. God has a method of service for you in accordance with His perfect plan for all. His method of service for you may be very visible, full of glory, impacting the lives of many; or it may be very humble, reaching only a few. He may have you serve Him in the grandest pulpit, or in the tiniest prayer closet. “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” (Rom. 9:21). Whatever the case may be, the important thing is to find the method of service God has chosen for you specifically. It is not the accolades of the world that count, but the approval of God.
So, the purpose of the “sober judgment” is to look at oneself objectively, discerning specifically the service that God has prepared for you. It is of the greatest importance, in order that the Body of Christ be healthy, to follow the will of the Head of the Body, that is Christ, in your service. How has He prepared you? What specific talents and strengths has He given you to aid in your service? Realize that since the talents are from God, the desire to carry out the service will come from God, the opportunity to perform the service will come from God, and the energy to perform the service will come from God.
The result of the “sober judgment” will be a knowledge of the service God has prepared for you and a correct estimation of your ability to perform that service. “Sober judgment” will necessarily result in humility, because a correct view of oneself will result in the realization that all of our talents and abilities come from God. We would be nothing without Him. Our service would mean nothing without Him. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen” (Rom. 11:36).
Paul relates that the sober judgment should be “in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you”. To err on the side of modesty is just as wrong (albeit less likely) as to err on the side of pride. We must be careful not to deny the true gifts God has given us. If God has given us a “measure of faith” along with the talents and abilities to serve Him in some way, we must use these true gifts with confidence for His glory. Do not allow false humility to be an excuse for laziness!
Note that it is the measure of faith God has given “you”. As Paul says, “We have different gifts” (Rom. 12:6). Some, often with good motives, may coerce you into service that God has not prepared for you. Not all are meant to be street evangelists, not all are meant to go to other countries as missionaries, not all are meant to be pastors, etc. God has prepared each of us for specific methods of service. If we serve in ways for which God has not prepared us, this takes away from the amount of time we can serve Him in the ways for which He has prepared us. Be careful not to get sidetracked and coerced into areas of service for which you know that you are not prepared. Instead, always seek God to find out His perfect plan for you.
Now, Father, we praise You that we have the privilege of serving You. What an honor it is to personally serve the Creator of the universe! Prepare us, guide us, make the way for us and give us the strength to perform the service that will best contribute to keep the Body of Christ healthy. By Your Spirit, give us the ability to view ourselves with sober judgment; by Your Spirit, always make us aware that we and our service are nothing without You and Your guidance. We ask these things in the name of Jesus, Amen.