Lectionary Commentaries for August 27, 2023
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 16:13-20

Richard Ward

Sunday was coming and I was filling the pulpit for the pastor of my church. I was also playing host to some dear friends who were visiting from out of state. My friend and I were taking a walk together along a favorite trail and going over plans for the weekend. “I’d like to come hear you preach,” he said. My friend is a devout Jew. I hesitated. “Well,” I muttered, “I’ll be preaching about Jesus.” “So?” “I’m afraid of saying something that would offend you.” We stopped walking for a moment. “I’d be very disappointed in you if you didn’t preach about Jesus!” We started walking again. “Honestly,” he said, “I don’t know why it is that my Christian friends are so afraid of talking about Jesus with me!” He added. “I’m not afraid to talk about my faith with you.” Man, did I feel called out! Sunday came, I preached the sermon, and my faithful friend was there. I don’t remember what I said in that sermon that day but I certainly remembered that conversation when I studied this text! 

I don’t know why it is that my Christian friends are so afraid to talk about Jesus! There are, to be sure, those Christians who are not afraid and in fact are willing and able to put Jesus at the center of any conversation. Others of us are more reluctant. Why? Is it because we just don’t know what to say in our politically polarized environment?  

Maybe we don’t know what to say because “Christianity’s got a branding problem.”¹ The author Jessica Grose claims that many are distancing themselves from “Christianity” because it is too associated with right-wing politics. One such person that Grose interviewed exclaimed “I no longer attend services, nor want to. I am simply too angry at what so-called Christians are doing to our children and society”² How do we confess our faith in such an environment? 

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Jesus asks of Simon Peter. What follows is a recital of names: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, revealing the idea that Jesus was identified with a tradition of prophets that Matthew’s community knows. What if we were to pose that question today? What responses might we hear? Surely there would be some who would agree with Marcus Borg that Jesus was a healer, sage and prophet.³ Others might say: “Jesus? Well, he’s my Lord and Savior!” Others: “Jesus? Did he really exist or was he made up?” Some wonder whether Jesus was a “misunderstood Jew”4 or suggest that Jesus was indeed a “messiah” but a “reluctant one”5 and on and on. 

Simon Peter is not reluctant, at least at this point in the story. He comes right out with his confession: “You are the Messiah” and in so doing he tags Jesus with a messianic brand. What did he see in Jesus that led to this declaration? Simon Peter has had a front row seat to the power Jesus has to heal, but he has also seen something of the warrior in Jesus: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth!” he had said, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword!” (Matthew 10:34). Simon Peter and the other disciples must have heard his answer to the question that John the Baptist asked from prison: “Are you the one that is to come? Or should we wait for another?” Jesus answered: “Go and tell John what you hear and see. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them!” (Matthew 11:3b-5). Even though Jesus’ question comes out of the blue, Simon Peter has his answer prepared: “you are the Son of the Living God!” Peter passes his oral exam with flying colors. His name becomes a metaphor—“rock”—on which a new community will be established. 

This confession marks a turning point in the flow of Matthew’s gospel. It also marks a breaking point with the synagogue down the street. It declares that the Messiah of God has come. There is no need to wait for God to send someone else. Yes, this Jesus of Nazareth is the one that Israel has been waiting for. The messianic visions of the prophets of old have been fulfilled and have come into sharp focus in the person and ministry of Jesus. Moreover, this community founded in Jesus’ name will endure “and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (verse 18).

This is strong stuff! It has to be in order to establish the Church as a legitimate heir to Israel’s covenantal traditions. God has also fulfilled another promise to Israel in the coming of Jesus, dramatized in Matthew’s story of the Magi’s visit: “And the nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:3). The testimony of Matthew’s community is this, that the Messiah has come but as Jesus had to realize for himself in his encounter with a Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28), he has come first to Israel but also as a “light to the Gentiles”. 

The fulfillment of God’s promise of “light to the Gentiles” does not mean that Israel is to be displaced. You can too easily build a shabby shack of anti-Semitism on the “rock” of Peter’s confession as you can a faithful community. God is “doing a new thing” through Jesus by the establishment of the faith community known as the Church (Isaiah 43:19) and promises never to abandon it. Neither does God abandon Israel in favor of the Church. The Church has indeed prevailed against everything “Hades” has thrown against it; but so has the House of Israel. 

Jesus says to Peter that God’s Spirit has revealed to him who Jesus really is. Perhaps if we are faithful and available to God’s Spirit, God will reveal the same to us.


  1. Jessica Grose, “Christianity’s Got a Branding Problem” New York Times, May 10, 2023
  2. Katherine Claflin, quoted by Jessica Grose in “Christianity’s Got a Branding Problem” New York Times, May 10, 2023.
  3. Marcus J. Borg, Jesus: The Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2015.
  4. Amy Jill-Levine. The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2007.
  5. Trevor Steele. Reluctant Messiah. NYC: Mondial, 2010

First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 51:1-6

Amy G. Oden

These verses from Isaiah are packed as they celebrate what God will accomplish among the exiled people. Because they are still an exiled people, a new vision is required. These verses offer comfort, hope, and a vision of abundance. In the heart of captivity and despair, Isaiah seeks to fire their imaginations so that God’s people can participate in the deliverance God promises. Imagine moving from “waste place” to Eden, from desert to garden (verse 3), from captivity to freedom (verse 5)! My commentary will focus on cultivating imagination as central to God’s redemptive work, especially within a scarcity mindset.


You will need to draw the picture for your audience of a people broken and defeated. Paint this picture of people taken in chains to Babylon, losing their temple, their homes, their way of life and perhaps even their trust in God. Displaced and disoriented, God’s people know only loss and death. The world they knew has faded in memory and they can only see decades of captivity ahead. You will know here what analogs of displacement (perhaps church decline) and disorientation (perhaps pandemic) your own community may be facing.

Scarcity and imagination

It’s no surprise that the Israelites might be functioning within a framework of scarcity: “wilderness,” “desert,” “waste places”. When you’ve lost everything, it’s easy to cling to what little is left, gripping tightly to a few morsels protectively, suspicious of others’ motives and needs. 

Into this scarcity mindset, Isaiah speaks an absurd vision of abundance. We can wonder whether it was jarring and even ridiculous to speak such words into lives devastated and displaced. Yet the prophet insists that deliverance resides in this very place, a transformation so concrete that people sing for joy (verse 3).

Notice the concrete images Isaiah invites them to see. This is not generalized “don’t worry, God will deliver you.” It is a specific and compelling picture to fire the imagination. Consider: God will “comfort all her waste places,” “her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord” (verse 3). And further, God’s justice will “be a light” (verse 4) to a people who know no justice. For a people defeated, is this merely pie-in-the-sky? Or does Isaiah expand the frame of reference beyond oppression, offering an alternative and prophetic line of sight?

Scarcity for us

Today, our gaze is fixed on scarcity. Doom-scrolling and toxic news convince us to fear each other and fear the future. Consumer addictions convince us that we need more, that our jobs, lives, relationships, possessions, homes, are not enough. We have allowed our consciousness to be colonized by the loudest voices and most frightening scenarios. Our scope of view is so crowded with outrage and fear, there’s no room in our view to imagine what God might be up to. Our vision is too preoccupied to recognize the abundant life God offers us, right here, right now.

Much like holding a child’s chin in order to direct their eyes, their attention, Isaiah shakes us—“Look!”—from the numbing stupor of the scarcity worldview.

Cultivating our imagination

What if imagination is the muscle we need most in order to have “eyes to see” the ways God is transforming wilderness into Eden? One of the first steps of cultivating imagination is to recognize that we don’t already know everything. We are so full of information, strategic plans, metrics and expectations, that first we must empty ourselves to make room for imagination to flourish. There is a sort of surrender in humbling ourselves in this way.

Second, we must relax, loosening our grip on having to be right. Instead, we must be willing to be playful or even foolish in order to cultivate imagination. When the inner critic is constantly saying, “No, that’s not right” and “God would never do that!” we shut down imagination before it can even begin. Think here of the key principle of improv comedy: “Yes!” or “Yes, and …” The goal here is to develop the muscle, not to figure out what is right. 

Third, we must be patient, as these new “eyes to see” beyond our scarcity mindset will take time. This is a muscle that has severely atrophied. A historical note: Many Christians in the West have a deep suspicion of the imagination. The modern period’s epistemological privileging of the cognitive has added to this suspicion. Protestant Christians often consider the imagination as the devil’s playground and warn the faithful away from engaging it. Yet, imagination is central to the biblical witness and to Jesus’ own teaching. And, through neuroscience today, we know that the imagination is a powerful tool embedded in our entire neural-network. We deny the imagination to our own peril. 

The invitation

Follow Isaiah’s invitation to pay attention: “Look” and “listen” (verses 1-2, 4), “Lift up your eyes” (verse 6). Cultivating our imaginations is another way to pay attention to what God is up to, to “have eyes to see and ears to hear” the work of God at hand. That is, to see God’s dream—Eden, garden, deliverance, abundance.

Consider the scarcity mindset that may persist unawares with your listeners. Invite them to imagine beyond it in one or two concrete ways. The preacher might paint an image or two, playing with “how might we imagine our way from scarcity to the possibilities of …” Use the three steps from above if it helps: 

1) Invite them to let go of what they think they already know. 

2) Reassure them that they don’t have to get it right or have the answer. There’s no “gotcha” here.  

3) Take your time. Let your imagination come as it will. This is a new muscle.

“Lift up your eyes … my deliverance will never be ended!” (verse 6)

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Exodus 1:8—2:10

Kimberly D. Russaw

In his novel, A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” While Dickens described chaos in London around the time of the French Revolution, chaos exists today. All around us, people are living in chaos. People are operating in what appears to be a state of being disturbed in mind or purpose. Within the narrative detailed in Exodus 1:8-2:10, readers encounter two women living amid chaos.

Chaos—when your community is riddled with death and funerals, but the essence of your livelihood as a midwife is all about life and living.  

Chaos—when you live in a country where your people, who are fruitful and prolific and built the place, are enslaved.

Chaos—when you live in a community where, more often than not, the folk who look like you work under harsh, inhumane, oppressive conditions primarily because they are not part of the dominant culture.

Chaos—when your country’s highest-ranking official comes into power and decides to “deal shrewdly” with those he perceives to be a threat to those he is closest to. The evidence of this “threat”—whether civil unrest, the official declaration of war, or weapons of mass destruction—is immaterial. It is about the perception of threat to those the leader values.

Chaos—when your country’s leadership establishes policies that disproportionately negatively impact “the least of these” or a mandate that calls for the murder of male children. Chaos.

This first chapter of Exodus is very familiar. Canonically, this chapter serves as a transition from the narratives of the ancestors of the faith, concluding with the story of Joseph and introducing the oppression of the ancient Israelites by Pharaoh. This first chapter sets up the birth of the boy-child Moses and foreshadows the eventual deliverance of God’s people from pharaonic subjugation. 

Amid the chaos associated with the Egyptians fearing the Israelites would increase and fight against them, ruthlessly imposing tasks upon the Israelites, and making their lives bitter with hard labor, the king of Egypt instructs the two midwives to kill all sons born to Israelite women (Exodus 1.16). As our text opens, Pharaoh tells Shiphrah and Puah, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birth stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” What’s he talking about? That request is void of logic and meaning. Pharaoh asks the two people invested in bringing life into the world to take life. That proclamation is disordered—mixed up. Pharaoh commands the two who wake up every morning prepared to craft birth announcements to write obituaries. That command is full of emptiness. That directive must disturb their understanding of their purpose. That edict is confusing. The whole situation is chaotic. That day, Shiphrah and Puah found themselves in the middle of chaos.

Exodus 1:15-22

If Shiphrah and Puah were unsure before, they are sure now: they are firmly rooted in chaos. I wonder if they each woke up that morning and said to themselves, “I’d better eat a hearty breakfast. It looks like I’m gonna have to deal with chaos today.” Somehow midwives are uniquely built for chaos. Perhaps God formed them—created them differently—to deal with chaos. What could have equipped Shiphrah and Puah for the chaos of their encounter with a Pharaoh who had already demonstrated his willingness to destroy an entire nation of people “just because”? What equipped Shiphrah and Puah for that chaotic experience? What lesson can we learn that helps us live through our chaos?

Returning to the text, the writer(s) of verse 17 report, “but the midwives feared God. John Durham notes, “the midwives’ belief in God, whose will was for them thus far more important than any orders a Pharaoh could give.”¹ Beyond belief, in this context, “fear” is not the “shaking in your boots” Freddie Kruger or “Fear Factor” fear, but a reverence. The midwives reverenced God. These women respect God and are in relationship with God. And that relationship seems to make all the difference.

And what a difference the fear of God can make! I have always been energized by how Shiphrah and Puah did a brave thing and “stuck it to da man,” but it occurs to me that if the edict was to kill all the Hebrew boys born during that time, it is reasonable that the midwives’ choices impacted more than just Moses. It strikes me that all the boys born during that time may have been saved because of the choices made by Shiphrah and Puah and their like-minded midwife colleagues. It is reasonable that many who fled Egypt with Moses could do so because of midwives like Shiphrah and Puah. Those Hebrews who will live through the wilderness journey, those who—along with their children—will settle in the land of promise, may owe their survival and existence to midwives like Shiphrah and Puah. Think for a minute about how far-reaching the acts of the midwives may have been! … Now consider how important it is to be in relationship with God—especially in times of chaos. 

If it has not happened already, at some point each of us will be called on the proverbial carpet by some “ruler,” and on our own, we will not be prepared for the chaos. Not unless we have a relationship with God. Indeed, on our own, we are not equipped for the chaos in our lives. Our circumstances are overwhelming, and living through our mixed-up and messed-up situations is difficult. Seek out the power-filled relationship with God we now understand Shiphrah and Puah had. Then you are equipped for the chaos. 


  1. John I Durham, Exodus, Word Bible Commentary 3; (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1992), 11.


Commentary on Psalm 138:1-8

Vanessa Lovelace

The composer of Psalm 138 teaches us that the proper response to the Lord’s deliverance is gratitude.¹

Can you recall those times when our elders taught us what we were supposed to say at certain times? For example, they would urge, “What do you say?” when someone gave you something or did something nice. Of course, “Thank you” is the appropriate response. We see this sentiment demonstrated in Psalm 138, where the psalmist delivers a song of thanksgiving for having been rescued by God from danger.

Psalms as poetic divine-human discourse

The book of Psalms is often regarded as a hymn book, however it actually contains a variety of literature, to include hymns, prayers, litanies, and meditations. Not only is the book comprised of several genres, but there are also various types of psalms, which are recognizable by certain shared features. The most common types are identified as prayers of lament and hymns. These can be individual or communal in form. There are also specific types of songs, which vary among scholars but are generally categorized as hymns or songs of praise, songs of thanksgiving, royal psalms, and wisdom poems. Regardless of the types of psalms, perhaps what is most important to understand about the collection is their significance in the worship life of ancient Israel. The psalms express the divine-human relationship in poetry and should be regarded as, “poetic discourse between Israel and God, who is said to hear and answer.”2 This confidence in God’s listening and answering is evident in Psalm 138.

Psalm 138 begins with the superscription or title “Of David.”3 There are 73 psalms attributed to King David in the Old Testament. Davidic authorship of the psalms has both internal support within the book such as Psalm 72, which concludes with “The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended” (NRSV) and externally, as in the lament ascribed to him in 2 Samuel 1:17–27. Given that David was recognized as a musician and composer of psalms, a tradition arose claiming that David composed the entire book. However, despite the association of certain psalms with personal events in David’s life, the superscriptions appear to have been added subsequent to the composition of the psalms. Therefore, the authorship of the individual psalms is likely unknown. This does not mean that David could not have composed any of the psalms. Nevertheless, the psalms were composed and collected over centuries, to include some attributed to David that were written after his death.

A heartfelt song of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance

Psalm 138 falls under an individual hymn or song of thanksgiving (see also Psalms 18; 30; 32; 40:1–10; 66:13–20; 92; 116; 118; 138). Although the psalmist sings praises to the Lord, the community is not commanded to do the same, thus distinguishing the song of thanksgiving from a song of praise. We can also discern from the first three verses that this is an individual psalm by the string of first-person singular verbs: I give you thanks (Psalm 138:1, 2); I sing your praise (138:1); I bow down (138:2); I called (138:3). What also distinguishes Psalm 138 as a song of thanksgiving from other types is the psalmist’s expression of gratitude in response to God’s deliverance from any number of trials or tribulations. For example, it might be rescue from danger, healing from sickness, or deliverance from enemies.

In Psalm 138, the psalmist does not specify the peril. At this point, the emphasis is on the psalmist’s confidence that when called upon God responded by providing him or her with the strength to overcome their ordeal (138:3).4 Thus, given that the danger has passed, the psalmist can publicly attest the Lord’s steadfast love or kindness (Heb. khesed) and faithfulness or fidelity (138:2) exemplified by having been protected from harm. Yet, in Psalm 138 the psalmist gives witness “before the gods” (138:1) or divine assembly gathered around God’s heavenly throne perhaps to express the magnitude of the deliverance.

The psalmist shifts the focus from an individual thanksgiving to the praises of the Lord by the kings of the earth. Why should the earth’s kings praise Israel’s God? First, they do so because of what they have heard from God’s own mouth (Psalm 138:4). Although the psalmist does not reveal what God is said to have spoken, this likely refers back to Psalm 138:2 where God’s name and word or promises to Israel have been exalted. Second, they sing God’s praises because they recognize God’s greatness and glory (138:5). Yet, the reader might be surprised to read next that the one who is above all other rulers in heaven or on earth and praised by the kings of the nations would consider those held in low stead with such high regard. Those in high places should take note that the Lord who sits high does not keep company with the arrogant (138:6).

The psalmist returns to extolling his or her confidence in God’s presence and protection while surrounded by those who pose a threat (Psalm 138:7). This should encourage us to have this type of trust in God’s steadfast love for us based on God’s promises. The psalmist gives testimony to having been rescued by God with an outstretched hand. The psalmist ends the song with a petition to God to continue to protect him or her according to God’s purpose for the psalmist. Thus, we are offered an example of what we should do in response to God’s deliverance — give thanks with a grateful heart. But we really don’t need a reason to thank God, do we? Give thanks!



  1. Commentary first published on this site on July 28, 2019.
  2. Toni Craven and Walter Harrelson, “The Psalms,” in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha, ed. Walter Harrelson (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), 749.
  3. The Hebrew preposition le could be translated “to,” “of,” or “for.” Thus, it might mean “for David” rather than “of David.”
  4. Given that women could be singers and musicians at this time, it is appropriate to use the pronouns “her or him” when referring to the psalmist. For a detailed treatment, see Joel LeMon’s endnote on his 2019 commentary on Psalm 16.

Second Reading

Commentary on Romans 12:1-8

David McCabe

When Christ’s great emissary to the nations pivots from expounding the extraordinary good news message about the justice and mercy of God, Paul turns our attention to body-language. This body-language matches the appropriate mind-set for those who “live according to the [Holy] Spirit” (Romans 8:5b).

Paul’s theo-political vision of the Christian community, acting in response to God’s grace and embodying God’s hospitality, portrays a vision of humanity which has been redeemed and of the body which portends the life of the age to come in its social relations. Redeemed bodies are the composition of the Body of Christ (Romans 6:12–13, 19, 22); redeemed minds are the reflection of the Mind of Christ (see also 1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5) discerning “the good” which pleases God (Romans 12:2) who has lavished mercy upon all (Romans 11:32). Everything that follows in the ethical exhortation is grounded in “the mercies of God” (12:1; see also 11:32), and this leads to a direct transformation of the story of humanity reflected in the argument that began in 1:18 and following.

The portrait of the community that Paul paints here in his exhortations stands in stark contrast to the impious, imploding vision of humanity that comes in 1:18-3:20. In that damning exposé of humanity who refuse to proffer appropriate worship to God and who “exchanged” the glory of God for an image (1:23), the truth of God for a lie (1:25), and natural sexual interactions for unnatural (1:26, 27), we have a vision of human being as foolish, futile, self-serving, violent, and corrupt. All of this is rooted in misplaced worship (1:21–23, 28). Improper worship leads to degraded bodies and deformed passions. By glaring contrast, we’ll see Paul’s moral vision for the community of faith is to “present [their] bodies a living and holy sacrifice to God” (12:1). Before, the “mind” (nous) was “depraved” (1:28), but here it is “renewed,” which means a full makeover (12:2).

It is also striking to note that Paul’s vision of the moral life is wholly encompassing of body and mind. Paul’s appeal for the believers to “present” (parastēsai) their bodies as a living sacrifice recalls his earlier counsel in chapter 6 for them to “no longer present (mēde paristanete) their body-parts to Sin as instruments of wickedness” but rather to “present (parastēsate) your body-parts to God as instruments of righteousness” (6:13). This image of the body as a living sacrifice is the opposite side of the agonizing “body of death” (7:24). Paul’s discussion of the contrast between “walking according to the flesh” versus “walking according to the Spirit” (8:4)—with the marks of the life of believers being comprised of the latter because “[they] are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in [them]” (8:9)—is realized in this offering of bodies in communal sacrifice. And, this “living sacrifice” is expounded in terms of a morally virtuous life of a body-politic. The vertical relationship between God and humanity has inextricable consequences for the horizontal relationships between people.

Paul describes the believer’s bodies presented for a “living sacrifice” as their “reasonable service” (logikē latreia, 12:1b). However, it is commonly noted that this has the potential to dangerously misconstrue Paul’s vision here as an interior, “merely mental” action confined to the private sphere. This is clearly not the case for Paul. Body and mind are interconnected in a social and relational matrix that includes collaborations within the house-churches of Rome, and in interactions with the community of believers and wider society. Paul clarifies what he means by this active “reasonable worship” of believers performed through the “offering of [their] bodies as a living sacrifice” with two passive imperatives. That is, what they are to do is paralleled by what they are to let happen to them. A positive demand (“be transformed”) comes after a negative command (“do not be conformed”).

The world all around the believers in Rome was saturated with images, practices, ideas, and social pressures that inscribed and inculcated a way of life which was incubated in the ways of “the flesh” and antagonistic to the ethos of God’s Spirit. There were schemes of representation and relationality that fed the appetites and imaginations of, what were for Paul, idolatrous and destructive divisions. The specifics can be discerned from the particular exhortations Paul offers in what follows. Paul is concerned about arrogance (12:3, 16; see also 11:18), destructive competition (12:4–5), retaliation (12:17, 19–20), and discriminating judgmentalism (14:1 and following).

“Reasonable worship” entails an ocular conversion as well. The believers now see the world differently and encounter the world through a new set of lenses. Reading history and experience and future hope through this interpretive perception leads to new habits and practices. 

The standard of moral virtue is defined by Paul as “that which pleases God.” Paul expects that believers will be shaped in such a way that they will be able to discern (to dokimazein) what God desires. There is a sense of Spirit-led improvisation required to live well in the time during the inauguration of the new creation and its culmination. Apart from this ability to discern the will of God, humanity is described as “those who do not see fit (ouk edokimasan) to acknowledge God” (1:28). Or, worse, apart from the renewed mind, there is the possibility that one knows God’s will and is able to discern (dokimazeis) and determine what is right because he has been instructed in the law, but still does not obey the Law of God (2:18; see also 7:14–24). 

Paul continues with the topic of “right thinking” by first exhorting “each one among you all” “not to think more highly of himself than he ought” (12:3). Proper discernment of the “good and pleasing and perfect” (12:2) will of God is a disposition of appropriate humility. There is a new way to posture oneself in relation to one’s fellow believers.

As Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthian church (see also 1 Corinthians 12:12–31), he again uses the imagery of “the body” to describe the different roles of each believer within the corporate whole. The common deployment of the body-language in the wider Greco-Roman world was used to subjugate the general populace for the benefit of the aristocracy. Paul, however, has turned this image upside-down. He configures body-language to be entirely mutually beneficial and to give special benefit to those who had less honor or status within the community. 

The previous state of humanity was portrayed as embodied with corrupted throats/tongues/lips/mouths (Romans 3:13–14, quoting Psalms 5:9; 10:7; 59:7) and destructive movements and violent kicks and spurts (Romans 3:12, 15–17), with haughty eyes (Romans 3:18). Now these redeemed and transformed bodies, gesturing as “living sacrifice,” move toward one another in redeemed speech (prophesying, teaching, encouraging), nurturing gestures (service, giving, leading), all in a God-like cheerful mercy (Romans 12:6–8; see also Romans 9:15–16, 18; 11:30, 32).  

The “transformed thinking” must take the shape of communally oriented enrichment. Intertwining these God-given roles and functions for the sake of the benefit of fellow believers is a safeguard from allowing one individual’s ego to become overinflated. In this way, Paul exploits and reconfigures the status quo Roman sensibilities toward honor and status. Paul commences the choreography of his spiritual body-language with directions for kindly gestures and service-oriented attitudes which follow the lead of God’s grace-filled movements.