One of the perils of studying scholarly works is the great delusion that one is already smarter than the rest of humanity. Personally, I tend to be overtly critical when I listen to sermons. I forgot to listen attentively with an open heart. Doubtless some sermons are indeed bad (and teach you about being patience), but most of the time my cognitive faculty acts as if it is a police of the Scriptures (I am simply applying the principle of James 3 and 1 John 4.1!). I do realize that I need to change this attitude of mine, but it still comes as an unadulterated joy when one is able to listen to a well-preached sermon. For example, today’s sermon by Denni Boy. The text is well known enough: Romans 12.1-8, with an emphasis on the first two verses.
I greatly anticipated him to invoke the Levitical cultic imagery which served as the backdrop of the first verse; and invoke he did. When Paul appealed to us “to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God”, he deliberately echoed the Levitical principle of offerings, e.g., the burnt, meal, peace, sin, and trespass offerings (Lev 1-7). Our bodies paralleled those goats and bulls which were offered to YHWH. They were dead, though, but we are told to present our living bodies. So you got an anti-parallel, but you have the parallels as well: holy and acceptable to God, which simply means ritually fit and clean to be offered to YHWH. To use the Levitical phrasing: so that we could be “a pleasing aroma to YHWH.” (Lev 1.17) In summary, to use Tom Wright’s dictum, there is double continuity and discontinuity between us and the offerings of goats and bulls in the Old Testament.
The second triad in verse 2 is more tricky, though. I am not really sure what was the background (Jewish? Greco-Roman?) behind Paul’s use of “good, acceptable, and perfect.” (12.2) ‘Acceptable’ could possibly continue the idea in verse 1, but it is not clear for me what Paul means by ‘good’ and ‘perfect.’ A side note to end this post: a memorable use of the word ‘perfect’ was by Jesus, when he said that we must be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Mat 5.48). The word used is teleios, which pretty much means ‘complete’ or ‘fulfilling the goal (telos).’ Being perfect, then, is related with goal and purpose.