What does Paul mean when he speaks of God distributing a measure of faith to those in the body of Christ? Is faith a thing that can be measured and bottled up?
“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” (Romans 12:3)
An argument I have seen concerning this verse, from a rather disgruntled Christian, states that God gives each person a different measure of faith and that that person, no matter what amount of faith that is inherently given to them, must hold onto that throughout their lives. The assumption is that if they fail to hold onto their faith (through certain disciplinary tactics I am sure) they will inevitably fail in their walk with God. Does Paul argue that each one of us is given a measure or quantity of faith?
We can begin to uncover what Paul had intended to say by finding out what the original Greek states. The Greek word for “measure” in this verse is μέτρον or the English equivalent metron. The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon defines it as,
An instrument for measuring
a vessel for receiving and determining the quantity of things, whether dry or liquid
a graduated staff for measuring, a measuring rod
proverbially, the rule or standard of judgment.
A metron is not itself a unit of measurement but the tool that is used to determine the measure. In other words, it helps us determine the standard. What is the standard? It is God’s faithfulness. It is His ever-reliable provision, His truth, and His active love towards us. God has given each of us this metron of faith, a proverbial measuring stick that enables us to know what is perfect and good. Paul was not stating that each of us has a different amount of faith, but that faith, produced by the flesh, can never achieve this perfect standard. This is why it prefaces Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts. It must be known that the gifts he goes on to mention do not and can not come from us. They depend on God acting through us, therefore it follows that faith is an active relationship of trust and expectation initiated and sovereignly sustained by God.
Paul instructs his audience to not be boastful, self-righteous, and proud and to do this he tells them to judge themselves according to the “standard” of faith. Now we can read the verse like so, “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, judging yourselves according to the standard of God’s faithfulness, a faithfulness that He has poured out to each one of us.”
Paul is comparing us to Christ and revealing, or shall I say revelling, in how short we fall. It is not as an admission to “do better” or “believe harder,” as much of Christianity would have you believe, but to think soberly and rest in the conclusion that Christ is our all in all. He is our perfect sufficiency. Although we each have different roles to play in the body of Christ, we all receive from and walk in God’s faithfulness, sovereignty, and unconditional love for us.