Have you thought about what it means to be able to think? “Thinking,” the ability to experience the world around us, assess what is happening within us, the thoughts and emotions of our minds and hearts, and process the meaning and significance of these happenings in a constructive and meaningful way is one of God’s greatest blessings to you and me. If you are like me then you rarely, if ever, stop to really appreciate the wonderful gift of thinking.
If you were to ask people, “What does it mean to be able to ‘think?'” you would get a wide variety of responses. One young man named, Mohit Garg, is a graduate of The Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, India. Mohit was born in New Delhi, India, he is a Hindu, and has a Master’s Degree in Computer Applications. He had this to say about “thinking.”
Man is nothing but a collection of thoughts. Life is nothing but a series of happenings. Yet, both these have been the subject of intense speculation and debate since the birth of history. What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be able to think? What is life? What is birth? and What is death? I am trying to find out… I hope you are too… (http://www.mohrahit.in/think/thoughts.html)
I don’t know Mohit, but I read through his resume this past week and there is no doubt that he has far more brain cells than I do. He understands the miracle of thinking, although he wouldn’t refer to it as a miracle. He would say that our thoughts are nothing more than an assessment of the series of happenings that we encounter in life.
There are many who think that to be a Christian means that you check your brain at the door. You can’t be a Christian and think reasonably or deeply about anything. Bill Maher, the host of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher appeared on MSNBC’s Scarborough’s Country back in 2005. Mr. Maher has been very outspoken about religion and his idea that being “religious” is a neurological disorder. Mr. Maher, on Joe Scarborough’s program, had this to say,
We are a nation that is unenlightened because of religion. I do believe that. I think that religion stops people from thinking. I think it justifies crazies. I think flying planes into a building was a faith-based initiative. I think religion is a neurological disorder. If you look at it logically, it’s something that was drilled into your head when you were a small child. It certainly was drilled into mine at that age. And you really can’t be responsible when you are a kid for what adults put into your head. When you look at beliefs in such things as, do you go to heaven, is there a devil, we have more in common with Turkey and Iran and Syria than we do with European nations and Canada and nations that, yes, I would consider more enlightened than us. When people say to me, ‘You hate America,’ I don’t hate America. I love America. I am just embarrassed that it has been taken over by people like evangelicals, by people who do not believe in science and rationality. It is the 21st century. And I will tell you, my friend. The future does not belong to the evangelicals. The future does not belong to religion. (Bill Maher, February 18, 2005, http://tinyurl.com/ygzf5ej)
Bill Maher’s thoughts are hardly new, the product of a post-Christian America. Long before Maher was ever born there were those who held these same beliefs about those who unashamedly profess their love for Jesus and their faith in God’s Word as the ultimate source of Truth.
Robert Ingersoll was the son of a Presbyterian preacher, but he didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps. Robert went to Law School, passed the Bar, fought in the Civil War, and later became the Attorney General for the state of Illinois. He was most known for his speaking skills. The famous poet, Walt Whitman, considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Robert Ingersoll held the same opinions as Bill Maher, only his thoughts preceded Maher’s by over one hundred years. Ingersoll once wrote, in his book called, The Gods and Other Lectures,
The doctrine that future happiness depends upon belief is monstrous. It is the infamy of infamies. The notion that faith in Christ is to be rewarded by an eternity of bliss, while a dependence upon reason, observation and experience merits everlasting pain, is too absurd for refutation, and can be relieved only by that unhappy mixture of insanity and ignorance, called ‘faith.’ What man, who ever thinks, can believe that blood can appease God? And yet, our entire system of religion is based upon that belief. The Jews pacified Jehovah with the blood of animals, and according to the Christian system, the blood of Jesus softened the heart of God a little, and rendered possible the salvation of a fortunate few. It is hard to conceive how the human mind can give assent to such terrible ideas, or how any sane man can read the Bible and still believe in the doctrine of inspiration. (Robert G. Ingersoll, The Gods, 1872)
Christianity is not opposed to “thinking.” As a matter of fact, we are told over and over again throughout Scripture, to think. Thinking, the willingness to use our minds to reflect and process the experiences of life, is a great commonality between those who are followers of Jesus and those who are not. The difference is not willingness on the part of unbelievers and unwillingness on the part of believers to use our brains, but it is the beginning point of our thoughts. For unbelievers, their beginning point is “anthropocentric,” with humanity at the center of their thoughts, where, for the believer, we are supposed to begin from a “theocentric” foundation, with God at the center of our thoughts. Miriam Webster’s online dictionary defines, “anthropocentric” as,
1. Considering human beings as the most significant entity of the universe.
2. Interpreting or regarding the world in terms of human values and experiences.
The same dictionary defines, “theocentric” as, “having God as the central interest and ultimate concern.” We all have minds capable of thinking, believer and unbeliever alike, but we as believers, part company with unbelievers because of the “lens” we use to interpret life’s experiences and the thoughts we hold about our experiences and the world around us. Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. Mark Twain once wrote, “If I were to construct a God I would furnish Him with some ways and qualities and characteristics which the Present lacks.” There is the problem and the problem is still with us today my friends. The Bible says that God made us in His image. Our desire and ambition is to remake God in our image.
Today’s lesson from Romans 12:3 is a great example of these two opposing viewpoints. Our lesson will be from a theocentric perspective. We are going to read Romans 12:3-8 just so we can set the context for verse 3. Let’s read our Scripture and then we will dig in. Read along with me.
3 For 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. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:3-8 NIV)
The first two verses of Romans 12 were a clear call for us to use our minds when you stop to think about it. Paul urges the Christians in Rome and all of us today to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God. If you will remember, he said, “I urge you, in view of God’s mercies, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices.” What he is saying is, “Think about the rich mercy of God that has been showered upon your life. Think about all that we have talked about in Romans 1-11. Think about how you Gentiles, who were once no people, without hope and without God, have been claimed by God’s grace. Think about all of these things, all of the manifestations of God’s mercy in your own life, and see if it is not now reasonable for you to offer your bodies, the totality of who you are, for His service.”
Now, in Romans 12:3, Paul once again urges us to use the minds that God has given us, but to use them in the right way. He says, “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.” You can’t see it in your English translation, but in this one verse Paul uses the Greek word for “think” four times, in two of his uses, the first and the last, there is a prefix added to give us a better understanding.
In the first instance, where Paul says, “do not think more highly of yourself,” he uses the Greek word, “huperphroneo” which means, “to think more highly of one’s self than is proper.” The prefix, “huper,” might be better understood by us if I were to say, “hyper.” You know the meaning of that word. We use it to elevate whatever it is that we are talking about. Some kids are active and others are “hyperactive.” Some people are sensitive and others are “hypersensitive.” All of us are born with a Thyroid which produces two important hormones which regulate our metabolism, but for some who have hyperthyroidism, the amount of hormone produced by the thyroid is too much. Paul says that we are to think about ourselves, but not in a “hyper” kind of way, an elevated manner.
Paul wrote to the folks in Corinth, a messed up church if there ever was one. One of their many problems was that they were choosing sides. Some admired Apollos, others admired Paul, and some admired Cephas, or Peter. Paul pointed them away from idolizing the servants of Jesus. Paul had this to say to these brothers and sisters.
6 Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not take pride in one man over against another. 7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? (1 Corinthians 4:6-7 NIV)
“Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought.” Paul tells the people of Corinth that they are no different than anyone else. Everything they have they received from God, as a gift. Paul prompts their thinking when he says, “And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you accomplished it on your own?” Now that is thinking from a theocentric posture.
Paul wants all people to think from the same beginning point…God. We are not the focus of the Universe, but God is. This is the only kind of thinking that will keep us with the right perspective in life and on life, not only about ourselves, but about those around us as well.
In Galatians 6, Paul gives instructions to the people about how to deal with people who are ensnared in sin. He says that they are to “gently restore” them, but to be on their guard so that they are not caught in the same trap. Paul follows this instruction by saying, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2 NIV) The next verse is interesting because Paul, in Galatians 6:1-2, is talking about sin and those who get ensnared in sin, and how we are to help them get out of the prison they never dreamed they would find themselves in. In the very next verse he writes,
3 If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (Galatians 6:3 NIV)
What does that have to do with what Paul has just written? Well, it has everything to do with it. We are not to look down upon those who are being destroyed by sin, but we are to help them while at the same time realizing that we are just as vulnerable as they are. How different is this from the thinking of an anthropocentric culture?
In our society those caught in sin are made headlines, they are the brunt of jokes, and they are the measuring stick that all of us look for when we want to make ourselves look good. That’s anthropocentric thinking, but theocentric thinking leads us to different thoughts: Those caught in sin are people created by God, loved by God, and He grieves over the sin that destroys us. Because of these truths we are compelled to care for, rather than mock, those who are ensnared in sin. How different are these two kinds of thinking?!
Let’s go back to Romans 12:3 for a minute. In this verse Paul urges us not to think more highly of ourselves than we should, but to have a proper perspective on ourselves. Read it with me.
3 For 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. (Romans 12:3 NIV)
I showed you earlier in our study that the first of the four Greek words for “think” used in verse 3 was “huperphroneo,” to think too highly of ourselves. The last of the four instances of “think” is also a word with a prefix attached and it is the word, “sophronein” which literally means, “of sound mind.” Some of the ways that Bible translators have translated this word are, “soberly, to have sound judgment,” or “to be honest in your evaluation of yourself.” The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says,
The term has such nuances as ‘rational’ (intellectually sound), ‘rational’ (without illusion), ‘rational’ (purposeful), ‘moderate,’ ‘prudent,’ ‘modest,’ ‘restrained,’ and ‘disciplined.’ (TDNT. pg 1150-1151.)
Simply to say that we, being of sound mind, think “thus-and-so” about ourselves leaves a lot of room for error. I know many brilliant people who have very sound minds from a medical, psychological standpoint and yet their thinking is not biblically sound at all. The word doesn’t mean, “humbly,” it means, “to have a correct assessment of ourselves.” Eugene Peterson, in his translation of the Bible, called The Message, translates Romans 12:3 like this:
3 I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him. (Romans 12:3 The Message)
Did you notice the very last sentence? “The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what He does for us, not by what we are and what we do for Him.” That’s it! Don’t miss it! The beginning of sound thought, rational thought, godly thinking, is God. Thinking that leads to godly living begins with God. In Titus 2:11-12, we read,
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. (Titus 2:11-12 NIV)
Let’s go back to Romans 3 as we get ready to close out our study. Paul says that our “sober” thinking should be linked to something. Not the comparison of ourselves with those around us or an assessment of where we are compared to where we use to be, or think we should be, but “in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” Different people have read this phrase in varying ways. Some read it as, “Think of yourself in accordance with the measure of your actual trust in God.” Others have read it as, “Think of yourself in accordance with the faith that God has given you.” And the reading that I believe is most accurate is, “Think of yourself in accordance with the specific gifts and talents that God has given to you.” I think this is the best way to read it because of what is to follow. Paul is going to talk about the diversity of the Body of Christ and the many gifts that God has given to His people for the building up of the Body as we serve one another. We are not to think too highly of ourselves because we are to view the Body of Christ as the beautiful Body that God has arranged in His wisdom, endowing each person with the unique gifts and talents they possess for the blessing of the whole Body. James Montgomery Boice writes,
So part of a genuine humility has to do with understanding the spiritual endowments God has given us, taking this seriously, and beginning to use those gifts for God. This is exactly where the remainder of this paragraph is going, of course. For after teaching us in the next two sentences that the church is made up of many diverse members and that these members possess different spiritual gifts, Paul continues: “If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” (vv. 6-8) (James Montgomery Boice, Romans, Vol. 4. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI. 1995. Pg. 1570)
This gift you have is a gift from God. You didn’t create it; you are a steward of it. What gift am I talking about? Well, we will get around to that next week, but suffice it to say that each and every one of us have been blessed by God with abilities, talents, gifts from God to be used to bless, serve, and build up the Body of Christ and to bring glory and honor to God. Some of you may say, “I honestly don’t think I have any gifts. There is nothing that I do really well.” I would disagree with you. Each and every one of us has been blessed by God with at least one gift, one ability, that is to be used to bless and build up the Body of Christ.
Today there are all kinds of “spiritual inventory” tests or “spiritual gifts” tests that you and I can take to try and discover what our spiritual gifts are. I have taken some of these tests and they are fine for those who want to take them, they can even be helpful in giving us some kind of idea where we might get involved in ministry. I do want you to know that even the best “spiritual gifts” test will fall short of exhausting the multitude of gifts that God has given to His people. I like what John MacArthur has to say about this. He writes,
Even when all that is done, it still may be impossible to fully analyze and specifically identify our spiritual gift. It is often not possible to distinguish between God-given natural talent, God-given spiritual abilities, and Holy Spirit power. When a Christian’s life is a living sacrifice to God and he is walking in the Spirit of God, he has no reason to make precise distinctions, because everything he is and has is committed to the Lord. Oversimplifying and overdefining spiritual gifts can cause great confusion, frustration, discouragement, and limitation of their usefulness. Focusing too much on the gifts themselves can hinder their faithful use in the Lord’s service. (John MacArthur, MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: Romans 9-16. The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago.)
The key for us is not in finding the perfect “spiritual gifts inventory” test to take, but in recognizing that it is all of God, for us to think theocentrically. If I believe that whatever gifts and talents I possess have come about because of my creativity and ingenuity then I may or not use those abilities. Most often, if this is my starting point for understanding life and specifically my life, then I will use those abilities to further myself and raise my stock in the community. On the other hand, if I understand that all that I am is a gracious gift from God then that will move me to use my time, my talent, and every aspect of my life for the purpose for which God has created me.
How do you change your perspective on life and especially your life? That’s the key question for us isn’t it? Well, the answer is to take off your anthropocentric glasses and see through new eyes–theocentric eyes that allow you to view life with God as the Initiator, the Cause, the Purpose, the Giver and Sustainer of all things. Where do you find these “glasses?” You find them at the Cross. If you would but ask Jesus to come into your heart, forgive you of your sin, and be your Lord, Master of your life, then He will give you a brand new perspective on life. Won’t you ask Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 731114
July 22, 2014