God Has Allotted to Each a Measure of Faith

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John Piper


Meditation on Romans 12:3

For through the grace given to me I say to every one among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgement, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.

According to Romans 12:3, God gives varying measures of faith to his people. Paul says that we ought "to think so as to have sound judgement, as God has alloted to each a measure of faith" (emphasis added). In the context, this is not a limited reference to the unique spiritual gift of faith which only some believers have (1 Corinthians 12:9). For Paul says, "I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgement, as God has alloted to each a measure of faith. (emphasis added). "To each" refers back to "everyone among you." God has given all Christians varying measures of faith. This is the faith with which we receive and use our varying gifts. It is the ordinary daily trust of the Son of God (Galatians 2:20) by which we live and minister.

In the context, Paul is concerned that people were "thinking of themselves more highly than they ought to think." His final remedy for this pride is to say that, not only are our spiritual gifts a work of God's free grace in our lives, but so also is the very faith with which we use those gifts. This means that every possible ground of boasting is taken away. How can we boast if even the qualification for receiveing gifts is also a gift?

That's how important humility is in God's eyes. This is exactly the same aim of God mentioned in Ephesians 2:8-9 where Paul stresses that saving faith is a gift: "By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not by works, so that no one may boast" (emphasis added). Faith is a gift from God, so that no one may boast. Or, as Romans 12:3 says, so that we will not think too highly of ourselves. The last bastion of pride is the belief that we are the originators of our faith.

Paul knew that the abundant grace of God was the source of his own faith. He said in 1 Timothy 1:13-14, "I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; but the grace of our Lord overflowed [for me] with the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus." (author's translation emphasis added). He was an unbeliever, But then grace overflowed to him with faith.

So he knew this was the case with every other believer too. He said to the Philippians, "To you it has been given for Christ's sake, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake." (Philippians 1:29, emphasis added). This is why he thanked God and not human resourcefulness for the faith he saw in his churches: "We ought always to give thanks to God for you, bretheren, as is fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged" (2 Thessalonians 1:3, emphasis added). We thanks God for the enlargement of faith because "God has allotted to each [his own] measure of faith" (Romans 12:3, emphasis added).

This truth has profound impact on how we pray. Jesus gives us the example in Luke 22:31-32. Before Peter denies him three times, Jesus says to him, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, that you faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers" (emphasis added). Jesus prays for Peter's faith to be sustained even through sin, because he knows that God is the one who sustains faith.

So we should pray for ourselves and others in this way. Thus the man with the epilectic boy cried out, "I do believe; help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24, emphasis added). This is a good prayer. It acknowledges that without God we cannot believe as we ought to believe. Similarly the apostles pray to Jesus, "Increase our faith!" (Luke 17:5). They pray this way because Jesus is the one who can do that.

This teaching about faith being a gift of God raises many questions. God has answers for all of them, even if we don't. Let us seek to put the teaching into practical biblical use, namely the humbling of our pride and the stimulation of our prayers. In other words, let us pray daily: "O Lord, thank you for my faith. Sustain it, Strengthen it. Deepen it. Don't let it fail. Make it the power of my life, so that in everything I do you get the glory as the great Giver. AMEN.

Believing (God gives faith to people in varying measures) should have to good effects of humility in ministry and prayer for sustaining grace. But viewing faith as a gift is easily perverted into passivity. The danger is that we will become passive and say, "Well, if I am to do my ministry by faith, and faith is a work of God's grace, then there is nothing for me to do. I will just stay at home and watch TV." Now that is an unbiblical and irrational response to the teaching of Romans 12:3.

We know it is unbiblical because right there in the text the whole point of Romans 12:6-8 is to exhort Christians in just the opposite way, namely, to do something. "Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercize them accordingly; if prophesy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness." (emphasis added). In other words, exercize your gift. Don't let it lie dormant. Take hold of it by faith and use it.

Resist passivity and look to God and say: "Lord I know that you have given me a gift for some kind of ministry. I am tired and I am anxious that I will not do a good job. But, Lord, I trust you, not me and my gift. I trust your enabling grace, In fact, I trust you even to help me trust you because you said that faith is your gift. And I go to my ministry (say my small group leadership) tonight in the strength that you supply so that in everything you may get the glory." That's the point of 1 Peter 4:11, RSV (emphasis added), "Whoever renders service, [let him do so] as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies; in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ." The gift of faith doesn't replace service, it trusts in power to do service.

We also know that passivity is unbiblical because of Paul's own testimony in 1 Corinthians 15:10, "By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me." He labored more than all of them! That is not passivity! But look at the conviction beneath it: "Nevertheless it was not I, but the grace of God with me."

The great words, "Not I, but grace" are not energy- destroying words, but energy producing words. Listen to Paul again from Colossians 1:28-29, "We proclaim [Christ], admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which works mightily within me" (emphasis aded). Paul labors, Paul strives. But it is the mightly power of Christ that works in him, enabling him.

The point is this: God does not will instead of our willing; he wills in and through our willing. God does not work instead of our working, but through our working. God does not energize instead of our having energy; He energizes our energy. Therefore it is unbiblical and irrational to say that because the grace of God produces an active trust in God, we don't need to exert an active trust in God.

At the end of your life, after decades of loving ministry, however God uses you to stir up the obedience of faith in others, what are you going to say about the grace of God and your lifelong labors? Are you going to boast? No. You are going to use the words of Paul in Romans 15:18, "For I will not presume to speak of anything accept what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles. You will say something like a paraphrase of 1 corinthians 4:7, "What did I have that I did not receive? If then I received it, why should I boast as if it were not a gift.?"

The Lord gives spiritual gifts to every Christain, including the faith to use them. Let us pray that he will measure out to us mightly measures of faith. find your gift. Embrace it by faith. Use it in the strength God supplies so that God will get the glory and you (and those you love) will get the joy.

From John Piper's A Godward Life Book Two pp.327-332

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