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This article continues an on-going, verse-by-verse series on the exhortations in Romans 12.
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. (Romans 12:16).
Paul here continues his series of exhortations (which he began in verse 14) that concern our behavior in the midst of an evil world. As such, the exhortations in this verse are primarily directed at our relationships with non-Christians. In verse 15, Paul exhorted us to act sympathetically with those around us, to "rejoice with those who rejoice" and "mourn with those who mourn." The exhortations in this verse speak mainly of sympathetic feelings and attitudes toward others. Paul exhorts us to have harmony not contentiousness, society not snobbishness, and humility not conceitedness.
First, Paul exhorts us to "live in harmony with one another." Literally, he says in the Greek to "be of the same mind." This entails striving to agree with others, trying to see things the same way that they do, putting ourselves in their shoes. Such attitudes lead to harmony and peace.
So many of us are prone to argument, rather than disposed toward peace. We go out of our way to disagree with others. At times, for the sake of discussion, we even argue a side that we do not really agree with! Other times, we disagree on issues that we really have not thought out well. Given other circumstances, we could see ourselves arguing the opposite position. We must realize that, in many cases, agreement is more a state of mind, than a matter of fact. Most issues are not black and white, but different shades of gray. Paul exhorts us to try and view situations with glasses of the same shade of gray as the other party. We are to "seek peace and pursue it" (Ps. 34:14; I Pet. 3:11).
Paul's next exhortation is: "Do not be proud" (literally, "mind not high things"), "but be willing to associate with people of low position." Given the privilege of our calling as children of God, it is easy for us to get carried away with pride. After all, we are the elect, the chosen of God. And indeed, to belong to the people of God is something to be proud of. The Lord Himself said through Jeremiah: "Let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me" (Jer. 9:24).
However, we must not "mind the high things" at the expense of not loving the lowly. It is easy to fall into an attitude of only associating with the "righteous", never touching those "sinners". The Pharisees had such an attitude. They would ask the disciples, concerning Jesus, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and `sinners'?" (Matt. 9:11). Jesus never had such an attitude. He gladly associated with those of low position, living as a light among them. He made friends with "sinners" and those of low social status even in the face of the criticism of the religious leaders. He did this because He did not value people based on their social standing, or wealth, or fame, or worldly power.
We of the church, I'm afraid, often fail in this respect. We treat the lowly as lepers, trying our best to stay away from them. Even within the church, the well-to-do get all of the attention, while those with humble means are largely ignored. We avoid the lowly for many reasons, among them:
1. We, in our pride, are afraid of what others might say about our associating with those of lowly position. We desire to maintain our social status, and we believe that associating with those of low position will jeopardize it. However, when Jesus' disciples were trying to maintain their social status by arguing about who of them would be considered the greatest, Jesus told them: "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all" (Mark 9:35).
2. We have a fear of being burdened by them, in some way, since they have needs. However, we are told to "carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2).
3. We lack love. However, our love of others should be based not upon worldly estimation, but God's valuation. We are to "regard no one from a worldly point of view" (II Cor. 5:16).
Again, we must consider Christ's example. By leaving His throne in heaven and becoming a man, Christ humbled Himself and "associated with people of low position". We are told that our "attitude should be that of Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself" (Phil. 2:5-8). From His birth as a man, and throughout His life on earth, Christ associated with the lowly: born in a manger, announced to the shepherds, living as a carpenter, discipling fishermen, befriending "sinners" and tax collectors, dwelling with no place to lay His head, touching the lepers, testifying to a Samaritan woman, entering Jerusalem on a donkey, washing the feet of His followers, dying between two thieves. And it is because of His associating with the lowly, because of this humility, that Christ is glorified, for "therefore, God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name" (Phil. 2:9).
Finally, Paul exhorts: "Do not be conceited." This exhortation is related to the previous one because, many times, it is our exalted view of ourselves that causes us to view others as lowly. If we had a right view of ourselves, we would be less apt to look down on others. We must realize that we are nothing except what God has made us. Why should we be conceited? Where would we be if God had not pulled us out of the depths? What have we done to deserve our salvation, our sanctification, our God-given wisdom, our prosperity, or even our daily bread? We would be more apt to see the beauty of the lowly if we could see the repugnance of ourselves.
And so, Father, give us the proper perspective to see that we are no better, in ourselves, than those that we consider lowly. Give us a true, godly love for them and a desire to break down the walls built by worldly estimation. Also, by Your Spirit, give us the ability to live at peace with those around us, and to see things as they see them. As You do these things, may their result be Your glorification in our lives as we are conformed to the image of Your Son, in whose name we ask these things, Amen.
(In the next issue, we will continue our study in Romans 12)
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