In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 67b of 83
“Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits”(Romans 12:16)
[We are considering the apostle Paul’s instruction to believers to seek to live in harmony with one another. In the previous instalment, we examined what he means when he calls us to be of the same mind one toward another. In this second part, we must look his second statement on the same theme. —JJL]
2. Mind not High Things
“Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate,” says Paul.
The first thing we must do if we want to have the same mind one with another is not to mind high things. What does that mean? Well, it does not mean that we must not think about lofty and heavenly themes.
It means, rather, that we must not set our minds on honour and dignity in the sight of others in the church. In other words, we must not be high-minded. We must not think of ourselves as somebody great and important.
King David sets us a very good example. He was a king. He was truly a great man, and yet he did not mind high things. This is what he says in Psalm 131:1—
“LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.”
David is not saying he does not make the great decisions in the kingdom when he says, “neither do I exercise myself in great matters.” Of course, he had to make the great decisions. He is saying, rather, that he does not think of himself as somebody great whose thoughts are higher than that of the common people. He recognises that he is flesh and blood like all his subjects.
As Christians, we must likewise not think of ourselves as somebody special when compared to others. Paul says in Galatians 6:3—
“For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.”
This was probably a particular challenge for many of the Romans Christians. They were living in a great imperial city. Many held high positions in society. They were well-educated, well-paid, and were in position of authority over slaves and other subordinates. Is it any wonder that many of them were tempted to be high-minded (cf. Rom 11:20) or to mind high things?
Are not many of us in well paid jobs, in well to do countries, in the same situation? The more that the Lord has blessed us of the things of this world, the more we will be tempted to think of ourselves highly. So it is important to remind yourself that all that you have, have been given to you graciously by our Lord so that you may boast of His undeserved favour towards you rather than that you may bask in your worthiness.
And make no mistake, being high-minded is not a harmless self-indulgence. It is destructive to the unity of the Church. Why? Because if you are high-minded, you will find it difficult to walk in harmony with the rest of the church. You will find it hard to fellowship with those who are less endowed than you. They may have a lower education; they may have less glamorous jobs; they may be less intelligent than you. Whatever the case, your being high-minded will put a barrier between you and them.
Therefore, the apostle says:
“Mind not high things, but condescend [or stoop down] to men of low estate”
Can you see the inverse correlation between being high-minded and condescending to men of low estate? If you mind high things, or if you think yourself to be somebody; then will you not find it hard to have genuine fellowship with men of low estate or men of humbler circumstances?
Thus, a church that have members who are high minded, will not be strongly bonded together. Remember that the bond of unity in the church is only as strong as the weakest link!
The church comprises not only men who are better off in the society. It comprises also men of lower estate. And we know that every member is important. Paul has made that very clear, for we are joined together like a body. And every part of the body is important.
If the church is to dwell together in true harmony, there must be fellowship and agreement on issues not only between those who are men of higher estate. There must be agreement across all levels of the church.
For this to happen, there must be a levelling in the church.
The church is like a forest comprising of all sorts of trees and bushes and bramble. Some are tall giant trees that reach the clouds; but some are short bushes that hugs the ground. How then can the church dwell together in harmony?
It can dwell together in harmony not by forcing the low bushes to grow up or to stretch themselves tall to fellowship with the tall trees. It can dwell together in harmony only by having the tall trees stoop low to fellowship with the low bushes.
You understand what I am saying don’t you. The church comprises members with very different background and age, different gifts and abilities, different social standing and economic status, different levels of intellect and understanding of truth, different spiritual maturity and convictions, etc.
How then can the church dwell together in unity and harmony? It can do so, not by demanding that those who are in lower estates upgrade themselves. Rather, it must do so, by those who are better off (in any areas) humbling themselves to be considerate towards those of humbler circumstances and showing magnanimity towards them.
This, essentially, is what the apostle Paul is teaching us in this text. In fact, we may paraphrase the entire verse in this way:
Seek to see eye to eye with one another. Do not put yourself above other, but be willing to fellowship with those of humbler circumstances. Do not be wise in your own eyes.
What then is Paul requiring of us? He is requiring of us to cultivate the bond of love one with another by levelling ourselves! No, no; of course, I am not referring to giving up all that God has graciously endowed us with. I am, rather, referring to our attitude.
We must be willing to fellowship with, and to accommodate ourselves to those who are not as richly endowed as we are. They may be poorer, they may be lowly educated, they may not know as much the things of God, they may be weaker in their faith, but so long as they fear God, we must seek to fellowship with them.
David, was a great king. He was a man of high estate. But he says: “I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts” (Ps 119:63).
We must never be ashamed to fellowship with the lowly. How can we be ashamed to do so when our great God humbled himself and took on human flesh in order to make us His friends?
“True love values grace in rags as well as in scarlet. A jewel is a jewel, though it lie in the dirt” says Matthew Henry.
Therefore, the Scripture condemns those who show respect of persons (Jas 2:1). Who are those who show respect of persons? They are those who would only talk to the rich and powerful, or to those who share their intellectual capacity. They are those who disdain others of lower estate compared to them. These will find themselves disdained by God.
In the church, this must not happen! We have been joined together so that we can journey together in our pilgrim walk. We must do so as a band. We must not neglect those who are weaker or hurt and leave them behind. We must slow down. We must help those who are weaker along. We must be tender towards one another. We must be loving and considerate towards each other.
Now, for this to happen, we must tackle a very insidious evil in the church. This is the evil that is always the wall and barrier that prevents the development of a warm bond of friendship in the church. What is this evil? It is pride.
Whenever the fellowship in the church is cold, one of the main reasons is pride. There is pride not only in those who are so called men and women of higher estate, but there is also pride in the hearts of those who are men of lower estate.
Think about it for a moment. Think about how pride tempts those of humbler circumstances not to want to fellowship with those who of richer circumstances.
And think about how pride tempts those who enjoy richer circumstances so that they do not want to fellowship with those who are of poorer circumstances?
How does pride manifest itself in the fellowship of the church? It manifests itself in individuals thinking that they know best. It manifests itself also in the heart of both parties in any disagreement, in that both think they are right, and both are disgusted that the other party cannot see the point.
Let me tell you a real modern day dispute that happened in a certain congregation not too long ago. There were two ladies. Let’s call them Syntyche and Euodias. Syntyche and Euodias had a disagreement over the way in which the lunch is to be served. Syntyche said, we should have some sisters stand behind the table to distribute the dishes. Euodias disagreed, “No, we should let the people scoop for themselves!”
Syntyche says, “Can’t you see, if we let the people scoop for themselves, there may not be enough for everyone; and beside there will be a mess on the table.”
Euodias says, “Come on, we are all Christians, we know how to be considerate to one another. I am sure no one is going to take so much food that others have not enough.”
Syntyche and Euodias could not see eye to eye. Pride blinds them to the other person’s opinion. Pride insists that she is right and the other is wrong. Pride refuses to see that there can be a better way. So Syntyche and Euodias quarrelled to the point that they refuse to talk to one another.
Can you see how pride destroys the unity of the church? Can you see how we must deal with pride as a church if we would grow together to be of the same mind?
…to be Continued Next Issue