I have for years had the privilege of serving in Africa. Reading the Scriptures in other languages always brings out something new and exciting. Recently some of us studied Romans 12, and let me share with you what we saw.
12:1 'Offer your body as living sacrifices.' Serving God means to bring God our physical bodies, the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19-20).
12:2 Paul repeats himself – in other words. Christians are called to be transformed by the indwelling Spirit instead of being conformed to the patterns of this world.
12:3 Paul continues about the implications of sacrifice. Here comes the surprise: Paul takes on pride. He is cautious but courageous. On the same authority that he has written about sin and salvation, he now wants to mention to (unknown) Roman friends how they think of themselves. Pride should be the first thing to go as Christians leave behind the patterns of this world. This is quite an extraordinary statement, to the point of rude, when we realise that Paul had never been to Rome!
Paul is adding insult to injury by coming back to the pride-issue again, even more explicitly, in verse 16: 'Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited' (NIV). Being a free Roman citizen, living in the glorious capital of the empire, or, if a slave, serving in an important position in a famous Roman household, perhaps gave rise to a certain attitude that was undermining the Christian faith and the unity in the churches. The social differences in society were carried into the church – and Paul wants none of it!
As we studied this passage together in class, we came to realise that Paul here brilliantly exposes the human condition – in Rome, in Africa, in Europe, wherever. Pride is the root cause of sin, Genesis 3. God grant us mercy to sacrifice it – and be transformed.
Chief archivist and pastor, Norwegian Lutheran Mission
Member of the Executive Committee of the Fellowship of European Evangelical Theologians