Our discussion in Romans 12 begins with a focus on verse 3. This verse says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” A brother asked me a question about this. He said, “What is the direct relationship between this verse and the previous verses? Why does Paul mention this here? What does it mean to think with ‘sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned’?”
We must understand that the background of the book of Romans is the fierce conflict between the Jews and the Gentiles. This conflict caused all the Jews to leave Rome in the time of Claudius (Acts 18:2). At that time Priscilla and Aquila left Rome and traveled to Corinth. Corinth is where they met Paul, the apostle. Since all three of them were tentmakers by trade, Paul remained there and helped to build tents. Perhaps it was prior to the time that Paul was burdened to write the Roman Church. He was also urged to write the book of Romans because he was determined to go to Jerusalem, and he was uncertain if he could leave Jerusalem alive and eventually visit Rome.
Racial conflicts in society usually penetrate the church. Therefore, in our study of Romans, we have also mentioned that one of Paul’s burdens was a hope that both the Jewish and Gentile believers of the Roman church could accept each other and live in peace. This may also help us understand Paul’s words in the highlighted text. Paul is admonishing both Jewish and Gentile believers to see each other’s strengths and not to think highly of themselves.
Spiritual Gifts in the Body of Christ
I shared that there are two great problems with Christians or churches. The first is that they think highly of their own gifts or callings but belittle the gifts and callings of others. Secondly, they look down upon their own gifts and callings but admire or even envy the gifts of others.
First of all, this is true among individuals. Paul uses the different parts of the body as a metaphor in Romans 12:4-8. Each of us is a member of the body of Christ, and each of us has our own function. Both the mouth and tongue are parts of the body, but they have different functions. With regards to the function of speaking, they are both indispensable. But if the mouth thinks too highly of its gift and acts like it does not need the tongue’s cooperation, it can not speak alone. If the tongue feels that its work is less efficient than the mouth’s, it may belittle itself, become envious of the mouth, and give up its function. Again, the mouth would not be able to speak.
This is what “to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” means. We need to know and understand the measure of faith, the calling, and the gifts that God has given us. First, we need to do our part. When we do our part, we can complement each other and accomplish God’s work.
From the body’s perspective, it is important that the mouth does not attempt to control the tongue or likewise. To produce a cohesive outcome such as eating or talking, the two must agree to work together. The same must also be done spiritually. Therefore, when Paul talked about us being different members of the body of Christ, he specifically mentioned that we use our gifts “according to the grace given to us.” Romans 12:6-8 lists these gifts and how we should use them: “if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. When we are faithful to the talents and gifts that God has given us, God will multiply our gifts.
For example, you may only have the gift of preaching at first. You have converted some people to be saved so you are now an evangelist. As you begin to teach these newly saved believers the truths of the Bible, you gradually develop the gift of teaching. Because you need to shepherd them, you will also develop the gift of pastoring. When the number of people or even churches you lead increases, you will become an apostle. Of course, if you pursue the gift of prophecy, you might be an apostolic prophet.
Allow me to use a personal example to further explain. I left the Local Church Movement (LCM) in 2015 to study in the Charismatic church. There I encountered many people with prophetic gifts. When they met me for the first time, many people said, “You have the gift of teaching. God has given you a gift in which once you understand a truth, you can express it in a language that others can understand.” Many people have prophesied to me like this. Indeed, they have the gift of prophecy and I can confirm this also in myself, but they do not know my experience in the Local Church Movement. The LCM practices prophesying in the way of forth-telling [see note at the bottom] and PSRP (pray-reading, studying, reciting, and prophesying). It encourages every brother and sister to learn to speak for the Lord. Therefore, many brothers and sisters in the Local Church Movement have the gift of teaching. The Local Church Movement’s position is that everyone prophesies. If speaking is not your natural talent, everyone will say amen and encourage you. Everyone dares to speak over time, and everyone is granted the opportunity to learn to speak. Everyone is afforded the opportunity to speak with boldness. Since the church encourages everyone to study the Bible diligently, many people have the ability to teach to some extent. Everyone can speak boldly.
In 2015, I had been attending meetings in the Local Church Movement for 13 years. My wife and I had been married for almost 10 years but we were infertile. Therefore, it was my hope to seek help from some brothers and sisters who were attentive to the voice of the Lord and could help us understand God’s will for us. We needed direction on how to be healed. But no one could help me in the Local Church Movement. Later, under the leading of the Holy Spirit, I visited some Charismatic churches and met some Christians with prophetic gifts. They could see prophetic visions or receive some miraculous revelations after praying. Some people even saw in their prophetic vision that we would have a child and shared that with us, which became our comfort in difficult times. Some of these prophetic words have yet to occur.But in general, there was indeed some hope and comfort for us at that time. Later, God also spoke personally to me. After this, we had our miracle baby! During the process, I realized that the gift of prophecy is real and that I was very eager to pursue it. I studied and completed the prophetic class offered by Randy Clark’s Global Awakening. I continued to learn and practice. Gradually I was able to activate the gift of prophecy. Although the gift has been stirred up within me, it must mature. I have started to have many prophetic dreams and some prophetic visions. Although these gifts are very controversial for many Christians, my experience is real, and I did experience an increase in my measure of faith and in my gifts.
Because the Local Church Movement does not acknowledge, understand, or teach the gift of prophecy (in the sense of foretelling), it was naturally impossible for me to learn or grow in the gift of prophecy in its meetings. Using your gifts is like exercising. if you exercise a muscle often, this muscle will be naturally strong; but if you do not exercise or never use a certain muscle, this muscle will not be strong.
The reason why the Local Church Movement does not teach the gifts of prophecy in terms of foretelling is based on the inaccuracies of many foretelling prophecies in the Pentecostal churches, including revivals or earthquakes that did not come as prophesied. This judgment is true, but the gift of prophecy was immature at that time when the leaders of the LCM made such conclusions. There have been more developments and progress since that time. But the Local Church Movement completely closed this door based on its bad experience from the past. As the saying goes, they “threw the baby out with the bathwater.” Another saying, “Misuse is not the excuse to not use,” does a better job of explaining what they should have done. There are many misuses of gifts in the history of the Charismatic Movement, but the misuse of gifts is not an excuse for us to neglect gifts.
The Local Church Movement does not advocate for or teach miraculous healing because they believe that pursuing miraculous healing will make believers pay less attention to spiritual life and growth. However, on the other hand, if our bodies cannot be healed, it would conversely limit the spiritual growth of believers. My own needs could not be solved in the Local Church Movement. Did this not prove that I was missing something? My experience is unique to me, but common to the body of Christ. I shared my experience on Youtube and WeChat, and believers from the Local Church Movement in the United States and China wrote to me to affirm my experience. They also discussed with me how to get healed. Although the gift of healing is new within me, it is being developed in a way that God can use me to help others. After talking to others who share similar beliefs, we all admitted that the teaching of the Local Church Movement does not exercise the complete five-fold gifts as described in Ephesians 4:11-13.
Therefore, in addition to the gift of prophecy, I also pursued the gift of healing. I went to New York to attend the healing meeting of Kenneth W. Hagin, the son of Kenneth E. Hagin, and asked him to pray for me to also receive the gift of healing. He said, after some hesitation, “This is entirely up to God.” He reluctantly prayed for me. However, I had a prophetic dream that night. In the prophetic dream, I saw Jesus telling me from a high place that He had given me the gift of healing. I said, “I didn’t receive it.” Then the Lord said, “Raise your right hand.” I then raised my right hand. A current flowed through my hand. Then the Lord Jesus asked me to raise my right arm again. This time the heat current flowed through my entire arm. Later, many people with prophetic gifts said that God has bestowed on me the gift of healing to help me steadfastly pray for my wife. God healed my wife through my prayers. Later, my wife was miraculously pregnant!
Just as my prophetic gift is currently dormant, my gift of healing is also limited. In addition to my wife, I have prayed for many other people. Not many have received healing. However, when I look back on my learning experience over the past few years, my measure of faith and my gifts have indeed increased. Although there is still room for improvement, I have made progress.
This process made me sigh deeply. On the one hand, I thank the Local Church Movement for its help of activating my gift of teaching and my spiritual growth. But on the other hand, I also thank the Charismatic church for helping me activate the gift of prophecy and the gift of healing. My gifts are limited in all aspects, but God’s gifts are unlimited. We cannot think highly of the gifts of our teachers and belittle the gift of prophecy in other people (or vice versa).
How Teaching and Prophecy Fit Together
Rick Joyner, a well-known prophet in Charismatic churches, especially compared the gift of teaching with the gift of prophecy, thinking that these two gifts need to balance each other. He said that prophets often receive revelation from God, but if there is no balance with the gift of teaching, they often are in danger of teaching heresy. For example, in history, “Mountainists” paid a lot of attention to the gift of prophecy. They declared that they had received special revelation. In the end, they taught wrong truths, which had a great impact on the misunderstanding of the gift of prophecy by Christianity in later generations. Another example is William Marrion Branham, who was a prominent figure in the healing and Charismatic revival in the 1950s. He had a keen gift of prophecy. He could often tell the symptoms of patients and heal them. But in his later years, he taught heresy and wrong truths, even calling himself Elijah. Therefore, the gift of prophecy needs a balance of the gift of teaching so as not to go to extremes.
The gift of teaching also needs the balance of the gift of prophecy. Many traditional churches only give importance to the gift of teaching. They deny, neglect, or belittle prophetic gifts. Gradually, teaching tends to become dogma. If the church lacks prophetic vision, it will gradually face spiritual death. This is the result of over-emphasizing the gift of teaching and neglecting the gift of prophecy. The Bible says that, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint.” (Proverbs 29:18). Many people may feel that “casting off restraints” here may be too serious, but the fact is that many churches are spiritually dead. The reason is that they have too much teaching. They lack fresh words from the Lord or fresh encounters with the Lord. It is not that we don’t need the gift of teaching. But if we only value the gift of teaching, the situation that Solomon said will happen: “My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) This does not mean that we should not study, but that studying should be combined with experience. Prophetic visions and prophetic dreams are our subjective communication with the Lord. They belong to the category of prophetic experiences. They are to know the Lord through subjective experience. Meanwhile, reading the Bible and studying are to know the Lord in objective truth. They belong to the category of the gift of teaching. They are to know the Lord through knowledge. These two need to balance each other. We need both the knowledge of the Lord and experiences with the Lord.
The Gifts In Practice
After I left the Local Church Movement, I visited many churches. I observed that every church has a different assignment before God. Some churches focus on teaching the truth. Some churches focus on worship. Some focus on 24-hour prayer and worship. Some focus on fasting and prayer. Some focus on religious ceremonies. Some focus on saving the children’s ministry. Some focus on caring for the poor, and so on and so forth. Every church and every denomination has a call from God. But the disagreement between churches is often because they regard God’s call to themselves as God’s most relevant call. Actually, this is not the case at all. We might reverence our own call as the most important, but it does not necessarily mean that what we are called to do is the most important thing to God. Because each of us has a limited energy, we can only focus on one thing. God has a titanic size workload. Therefore, in God’s eyes, different churches are different members of His body. They work together to accomplish His perfect plan.
If we regard God’s calling to us as God’s entire work, or as God’s most central work, and neglect to learn, understand, and cooperate with other people’s callings and gifts, we will easily wither or become biased. Because we are different members of the body, those of us with the gift of teaching need to balance those with the gift of prophecy. Those who have the gift of prophecy need to balance those with the gift of teaching.
If you pay attention to the situation of different churches, churches that value gifts but are not solid enough in God’s Word are often prone to have wrong teachings on the truth or not have enough spiritual maturity. This type of church falls apart easily as they tend to be lukewarm, unrooted, and not disciplined.
The churches that value the teachings of the Bible, but not the gift of prophecy, have a lot of knowledge, but without God’s anointing and not exercising gifts at the appointed time, they tend to be confined to their ivory towers. Such churches often think they know the truth, but many of their teachings are full of tradition-based knowledge. Often they are not strong enough in the operation of the Holy Spirit. They, along with their followers, often die and wither spiritually. Such churches are often prone to legalism.
I just cited two gifts -the gifts of teaching and gift of prophecy- for comparison. There are other gifts that are also vitally important. For example, many churches do not attach importance to the work of the deliverance ministry, which will gradually lead to many problems. There are controversies about the gift of apostleship and whether there are apostles in the church today. But I think there is still the ministry of apostles today. Due to time constraints, we will not discuss other gifts in detail here.
Unity in the Body
Therefore, in addition to individual Christians needing to admit that their faith and gifts are limited and thus need to be paired with those of other members of the body, churches must also admit this fact. Unity in the church is not conformity. In order to achieve unity in the church, the church must recognize the diversity in churches and their different callings before God. The unity in the church does not lie in any one method. It comes from a oneness in the understanding of the knowledge of God’s truth. If our knowledge of God’s truth is not in oneness, no method can let us be in oneness.
Let us consider the following example. In the early years, the Local Church Movement practiced gathering in Los Angeles in accordance with the locality’s principles and on the ground of oneness. A group that advocated speaking in tongues had gathered with the Local Church Movement on the ground of oneness. But in the end, everyone had a different understanding of speaking in tongues. This caused a separation. Although the leader hoped that everyone would put aside their differences and attend meetings on the ground of oneness, they still could not be at peace with each other. I left the Local Church Movement and went to the Charismatic movement in 2015. After experiencing the baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues there, I realize that speaking in tongues is an important truth in the Bible, which is essential to the spiritual experience of Christians. Speaking in tongues is not what many people think, the smallest gift among the gifts. Speaking in tongues is a very important gift and a requirement for the growth of other spiritual gifts. Many people need to pass this requirement first before they can pursue more gifts, and even spiritual maturity (though speaking in tongues itself will not guarantee spiritual maturity). If used properly, speaking in tongues can help believers to obtain more maturity. There is a lot of controversy about this truth, but remember that Paul specifically asked the church not to forbid speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:39). He said that he spoke in tongues more than anyone else (1 Corinthians 14:18). But many churches have actually forbidden speaking in tongues, which is inconsistent with Paul’s teaching. I don’t have time here to explain the truth about speaking in tongues. But for people who understand the importance of speaking in tongues, it is difficult to stop speaking in tongues. Speaking in tongues is a gift. Although I don’t need to speak in tongues in meetings, I know that people who don’t speak in tongues lack knowledge of certain spiritual truths and certain spiritual experiences regarding tongues. I do not force others to speak in tongues, so others do not need to force me to quit praying privately in tongues. The difference in understanding of this basic truth caused the church to split into two major divisions. Who says that speaking in tongues is the smallest gift? Why is the smallest gift the cause of the biggest split in Christianity? Does this make sense? It is evident that speaking in tongues is a very important truth. It is a truth and gift that the enemy strives to prevent Christians from knowing and practicing. The purpose is to prevent Christians from growing up in their spiritual life and receiving spiritual gifts to fight with him.
Of course, counterfeit tongues and the fleshy situation of Christians who are speaking in tongues have always existed, whether in the Corinthian church or the modern church. There are also many wrong teachings about speaking in tongues. For example, the statement that “speaking in tongues is necessary for salvation” is not in line with the Bible. All these will cause the people who don’t understand about speaking in tongues to stumble. But as we said earlier, “Misuse is not the excuse to not use.” In fact, this is another method used by the enemy to attack the truth about speaking in tongues – to make people misunderstand it and to stigmatize this truth. When anything is stigmatized, we must think about the reason behind it. The reason why something is stigmatized is often more important.
Consider the example of speaking in tongues. I pointed out that the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movement, which comprises about 600 to 700 million Christians, cannot be in oneness with other evangelical denominations which comprise about the same number. This is because everyone’s understanding of the truth is not in oneness, and everyone’s lives are not mature enough. Under this premise, any method, including the ground of “oneness in our locality” (which may be a good method and in line with the Bible) cannot bring people into oneness. The problem does not lie in the method but in us.
Under such circumstances, if you insist on the oneness, there will be two results. One is organizational unity, such as the Catholic Pope and the different levels of religious systems trying to maintain the oneness. The other is trying to unite us in a coalition. But often you are friends only on the surface. Neither method can achieve true oneness.
Andrew Murray said that the division between churches and denominations lies in the fact that they have not allowed themselves to be filled more with God’s Holy Spirit. He gave the following example. He said it’s like when the tide goes down, shoals appear one after another. Each shoal is like one denomination. There are fish in it. Everyone does their own thing there; they shepherd their own fish. The barriers of the shoals are like the barriers of the denominations. Only when the tide rises will all barriers be removed and will oneness be achieved. The true oneness is for the Holy Spirit and the Lord’s glory to fill the earth. People’s knowledge of the Lord fills the land as when the water fills the sea. Before this, no method can let us achieve oneness.
I told the brother who asked this question that there is no need to pursue oneness just for the sake of pursuing it. Our oneness with the Lord is enough. Slowly, as the body of Christ grows in stature, a better understanding of the truth will slowly bring about oneness. Oneness is made by the Holy Spirit, not by us humans. Before that, learning to love one another is the most important.
In conclusion, let us review the four sections of Romans 12, which sum things up well. The first section tells us to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice, which is our spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). The second section tells us we should “be transformed by the renewal of our minds” (Romans 12:2). The third section tells each of us we should look at ourselves “according to the measure of faith God has assigned.” We should not think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, and we must use our gifts alongside those of other believers. But at the same time, we must also yearn for an increase in the measure of faith and an increase in gifts. The fourth section is a reminder that there should be love in everything. Love one another with brotherly affection, love your enemies, and live in harmony with one other. (Romans 12:10, 14, 18) When we live out love, we live out oneness.
Perhaps this was Paul’s burden for the Jew and Gentile believers in the Roman Church.
Note on forth-telling: “Foretelling is the declaration of future events as revealed from the Lord, pertaining especially to the kingdom of God
Forth-Telling is to utter forth, declare, a thing which can only be known by divine revelation; declare the divine will, to interpret the purposes of God, or to make known in any way the truth of God which is designed to influence people. It can only be uncovered and revealed through prophets.”