Christianity considers St. Paul as the most important apostle as far as its growth is considered. Paul’s journeys to each and every corner of the Roman Empire, his personal contacts with the people of the Churches he founded, his prolific writings and his theology contributed much to the spread of Christianity. Let us examine, for example, what Paul says to his readers in the 12th chapter of his Epistle to the Romans.
The Church of Rome was one among the leading Churches, which owed much to the ministry of Paul. The letter of St. Paul to the Romans is pregnant with his theology. Even though its language is tough, the letter had its impact in the making of Christian history and theology. Martin Luther, the Augustinian monk who parted with the Roman Catholic Church of 16th century formulated his theology while he was translating the epistle from Latin to German.
The Christians of Rome were having a gentile background. Paul taught them the basics of Christian life. At first they were informed about their privilege as children of God and then Paul explained them the value of being a disciple of Jesus: The faith in Jesus put them into a right relationship with God. But this demanded an ethical standard as well. The believer had to live in conformity with what he/she believed.
The Believer and the Worship:
The initial part of the chapter (12:1-3) is a call of Paul to become a living sacrifice to God. Paul has no doubt that the “worship” is the primary duty of a believer. He underlines the ingredients of a “true worship”, which will be acceptable to God. Romans knew how to make a sacrifice to the god or goddess they believed. Even animal sacrifices were there. Paul’s exhortation is, however, not about the expensive objects, which they can offer, but he introduces a new kind of worship: the believer has to offer himself as a living sacrifice, which would be acceptable to the living God. Paul believes that this and nothing else would be the true worship pleasing to God.
How can one become a living sacrifice? Three things are suggested here. Firstly, one has to dedicate him/ herself to the service of God. To make ourselves available for God is something important. Today, every body is busy and what he wants from God is to do what he/ she finds important. But what God requires is to become a silent and patient hearer. God will say what the believer wants to do. This dedication of a person is very important in Christian life. Only those who realized this aspect could do something in this world. These people were ready to re-form themselves according to the divine plan and purpose.
Secondly, what a believer wants to do is to transform inwardly with a change of mind/ attitude instead of conforming to the worldly things. Paul underlines the fact that “if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). What corrupts today is the worldly life of Christians. The outsiders see nothing new in a Christian. Dr. Radhakrishnan, the former president of India and a renowned philosopher said once: “You Christians are ordinary people with extra-ordinary claims”. The claim of being “baptized” should be reflected in the life. Earlier it was so; the faithful had a new consciousness as Christians. The Epistle to Diognetus, an Early Christian document, says that the Christians considered their land as a foreign land and their life on this earth as temporary. Their concentration was more on the heavenly and eternal life.
Thirdly, the faithful realizes the will of God. By being obedient to God, he/ she “realizes” and “proves” what is “good and acceptable and perfect”. Modern man thinks “everything is good”. But Paul says that there are good and bad things in this world and the Christians have to discern the mind of God just to identify what is good for his life. When King Solomon was asked by God to seek any blessing, he asked only for the power of discernment. To differentiate between the good and evil is the most important aspect in the life of a Christian.
Seven principles of an attitudinal change:
After making his initial comments about a meaningful Christian life, Paul lists out seven attitudes, which make our life spiritual. Many people do not know the difference between an ordinary life and a spiritual life. They have to read carefully what Paul says in Romans 12: 3-21. Following are the seven principles of an attitudinal change.
Modesty in thinking about the self:
Today we see many people who consider themselves above others. They spend many hours to frame a Curriculum Vita, which will be impressive for others. It is good that one has got the self-respect and self-belief. But to think always about one’s own things and to boast about personal achievements will not be productive. They have to be modest in their thoughts. Paul himself had many things to boast. Once he handles the subject in his communications with the Church of Corinth. He had all the credentials to boast about himself: He was a Hebrew by birth, a son of Abraham, true Israelite and a Christian servant. These are the things, which made his opponents to boast. Above all these Paul; had something more, the sufferings that he had undergone. He gives more importance to the long list in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29. What he wants to underline is: one’s boasting should be about his efforts to make the name of Christ known in the world.
It is a human tendency that we make judgments about others. When two or three people come together, their subject of conversation will be a third person, who will be absent in the scene. This will not do any good; this is neither good for the person about whom the remarks are made nor productive for the people who frame the opinions. But self-judgment is something which refines a person. It is just like making an assessment about a project or a company. In the month of March everybody is hurry in preparing the accounts for audit. This year the Christians were preparing a spiritual account for audit also in March just before the Passion Week. The SWOT analysis helps a person grow spiritually. The knowledge about one’s own strengths would propel his actions; to realize personal weaknesses helps one re-route his life; the understanding about spiritual opportunities would make the setting of targets easy; and the notion of threats in life would empower him/ her to avoid dangers in life.
Meaningful management of the talents:
Many people are talented, but few know how to manage it. A meaningful management of the talents needs at first the conviction that all talents originate in God only. He is the provider and we are just stewards of them. Paul mentions some of the major charismas, a favorite word of Paul, in the verses six to eight: Preaching, teaching, administering, serving, encouraging others and even generosity is the gift of God in Paul’s words. What he wants to say is to know that each individual is a part of an organ, which needs a co-operative and dedicated use of all these talents for the overall development.
Sincerity in Love:
Love is the word most misquoted in the society. What disturbs the families, communities and societies today is the false nature of love. Paul uses the Greek word anupocritos to designate the Christian love. It is the opposite of the word hupocritos, which means the one who is hypocritical. He does everything to make a show before others. Even his love is a piece of show. The media give us a lot of such stories. The love affair between the celebrities ends mostly in divorce and suits, because their world is that of a mega show. Real love can not be marketed. It binds the hearts and others would wonder what makes them love each other. It will not be the beauty, money, career or anything else, which makes two people love. There is something, which we can not perceive or measure. That is why Paul says that love is the greatest among the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 13). Therefore, to have a real love towards another is a spiritual feeling. One who loves really would respect his/ her partner. Mutual respect enhances the affection.
Spirituality does not mean to be idle and to spend time in the Church itself. One who is spiritual should be loyal towards his responsibilities and duties. Laziness is a seed sowed by Satan. This leads one away from God. Jesus himself was teaching this when he said the parable of the talents (Mtt. 25: 14-30). Each should work according to his talents and caliber. To sit back and say that I am damned and the others are blessed by God is not spiritual. God wants good stewards. Those who are loyal to God will be given more opportunities, while the lazy people will be thrown out of the ring.
Many people fall prey to suffering and tribulations. Failures in examinations, breaking up of love affairs, lack of improvement in business and the growth of debts make people unhappy. Their hopelessness leads to depression and that ends the life of many. Today the number of people who take medicines for psychic cases is increasing fast. Depression is like a cancer. In a place like Kerala, where the percentage of literacy is the highest in India, the number of suicides happening every year is becoming uncontrollable. In verses 12 and 13 of the chapter Paul teaches the Roman Christians how to make adverse situations positive. He prescribes three tablets for the depressive patients: hope, patience and prayer. To overcome difficult situations in life one needs to have the joy in hope. He has to wait for the intervention of God patiently. Prayer strengthens him in the days of hopelessness.
Hating the Evil:
Romans 12: 14-21 is actually a commentary to a part of the Sermon on the Mount. The greatest commandment of Jesus was “to love the enemies”. Even though this demand seems small in size, its practice is the toughest in our life. Usually we hate the evil doer and we ignore the evil thing. What Paul wants the Romans to do is vice versa. We need not hate the evil doer just to reject the evil. Even in times of persecution one has to pray for the evil doer. This is the toughest norm of Christianity. In this world of hate and religious fundamentalism Paul teaches the basics of Christian ethos.
Thus Romans 12 can be considered as a Magna Carta for a real Christian life. One who learns it and possesses the seven attitudes given by Paul would have great dividends in his spiritual life. He himself would become a living sacrifice and a true worship.