"Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited."
CLICK TO LISTEN
For a Happy Church Life
If you ask people why they are not Christians you will hear a wide variety of answers. Amongst these you will find that the church is given as the reason by some/many.
Many folk have no personal experience of the church at all but as they look on from the outside they see the church as some vast institution that is full of wealth, privilege and corruption. The recent sex scandals and child abuse stories that have emerged in recent years have only served to bolster the view that the church is part of the problem rather than being part of the solution.
Others may well have had some contact with a church somewhere but their experience has been disappointing leaving them disillusioned, disappointed and unsatisfied. These may well speak more favourably about personal faith and they may well have a more positive attitude towards Jesus Christ but they still keep themselves away from the church. You'll often hear folk in this group saying something like "You don't have to go to church to be a Christian."
What has your experience of church life been like?
It is not my intention this morning to try to defend everything that "the church" is, says and does. Just as it is quite possible to put the wrong label on a bottle in your kitchen so it is easy for men to call a group, or an institution for that matter, a church when it is nothing of the sort.
It is also important for us to remember some simple facts concerning what a church is and what it is not: no church on earth is perfect because each is made up of sinners. The church is more akin to a field hospital where those who have been injured in the battles of life are being restored to the kind of wholeness God intended for the human race. It would be just as ridiculous to negatively judge a church because it was made up of sinners and hypocrites as it would be to condemn a hospital for having sick people on its wards!
The apostle Paul has explained what the Christian faith is all about in the opening 11 chapters of his letter to the church in Rome. Having done that, he moves on to describe the type of life that was consistent with his earlier teaching. As we consider just what that life looks like we find that he has an awful lot to say about relationships. In short he tells us what the local Christian church should look like, what sort of attitudes should characterise the life and inter-
How important it is then for us to listen to what he says and to act accordingly! What an impact might be made were every local church to do the same. I'm not suggesting that people would automatically flock into our churches as a result but at least their use of the church as an excuse for not becoming a real Christian would have a much hollower ring to it.
So then this morning we come with our text to look at some of the important attitudes that should be evident in the life of our church.
Four More Attitudes
In the words of our text this morning Paul gives us four short, snappy, instructions.
"Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited." (ESV)
"Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion." (NKJV)
How different our churches might be if these four principles had been regularly applied throughout church history!
Let us take a closer look at each of them:
Live in harmony with one another/Be of the same mind toward one another
What Paul tells the Romans to do here in Rom.12:16a he later prays that God might enable them to do:
Paul is not telling the Romans that they are to become clones of each, all thinking exactly the same thing as one another -
Do you see that? Behaviour begins with the mind and that is where Paul starts. The Christians in Rome are to share a similar attitude towards one another – and that gives rise to the translation "live in harmony with one another". If we are committed to mutual respect then this harmonious living becomes a real possibility.
The command is addressed not so much to individuals as to the church as a whole – such mutual respect and honour is to characterise relationships within the church. Are you determined to play your part in this and that this is the way that you will live out your relationships within the church fellowship?
The fact that Paul prays for the Romans to be able to live this way immediately suggests two things:
Divine aid is necessary
Divine aid is available
And in line with this we find examples in the Bible of God giving just such aid to his people in the past:
2Chron.30:12 "The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the LORD."
Or again when Jeremiah prophesies the blessings of the new covenant he included this blessing along with others:
Jer.32:29 "I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them."
And what benefits flow when the people of God live this way!
We have already read Ps.133 and we find in the NT descriptions of the practical outworking of such harmonious living:
Small wonder then that the NT contains several other exhortations to adopt this particular mindset:
Do not be haughty/snobbish/do not set your mind on high things (or people)
The second of Paul's instructions tells us in part what will be involved if we want to live in harmony with one another and again it is clear that our attitude is what he has in mind. It is so easy to get caught up with thoughts of our own importance that we dismiss others as being somehow below us or less important than we are. The attitude that Paul is militating against is that of snobbishness. The snob likes to look down on others in a way which is both arrogant and offensive. He a person with an exaggerated respect for status and who seeks to associate with those he considers his superiors while looking down on those he regards as his inferiors.
We are not usually very appreciative of snobs and wouldn't appreciate being addressed as such. We have several ways of describing a snob and none of them is particularly flattering. He is someone who is snooty, uppity, high and mighty. He may try to sound different from what he really is and we say he is very la-
Well don't be like that yourself says Paul. Don't imagine that you are so much better than others that you can look down on them – in whatever way. Being a snob will not promote harmonious living within the church but rather criticism, division and hostility.
Earlier in this same chapter Paul has encouraged his readers not to entertain inflated opinions about their own importance – how detrimental it is whenever we do that!
Rom.12:3 "For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned."
But associate with the humble/lowly
If we are to develop harmonious living we must do more than merely avoid becoming stuck-
So here Paul adds the positive side to complement the negative instruction he has just given. What he wrote could mean one of two things and perhaps the ambiguity is deliberate meaning that both are intended.
Associate with the humble/lowly – this would of course naturally correspondent to the injunction not to be a snob. If there is anyone the snob does not really want to treat with on equal terms it is the person he considers to be less important than himself. But in the church there is no place for this kind of elitism. James in his letter was very clear about that:
Jas.2:1 "My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory."
Let the grumblers and the malcontent show partiality if they will but such an attitude should not characterise the Christian man or woman.
Be ready to do the humble task – a natural consequence of having an inflated opinion of oneself is that we begin to imagine certain jobs are beneath us and we leave them to those we think lower in rank and importance than ourselves.
How inappropriate this is for those who claim to follow a crucified Master who being in the form of God did not cling on to his status but willingly took on himself the form of a servant. This One stooped to levels which startled and shocked his apostles:
He taught women
He received infants
He washed feet
Are you getting your hands dirty, as it were, in the service of others in the church or is all that somehow beneath you? The love that expresses itself in ready, self-
Never be conceited/Do not be wise in your own opinion
The fourth and final piece of instruction that we will think about this morning sounds very similar to what Paul has just told us when he said don't be haughty. There is however a different nuance of meaning here though we readily recognise that all of what Paul has to say in this verse is closely related.
What Paul has in mind is that attitude which we find comes all too easily to us. It is that attitude that always sees us as being right and if others disagree with us it must be them that are wrong!
Such an attitude when it becomes entrenched will greatly hinder harmonious relationships within the church as it will stifle a genuine exchange of views. How can you share a different view from the one already expressed if every divergence will simply be treated as erroneous?
If this is your attitude are you aware of the detrimental effects it will have on the way others relate to you? They will probably stop trying to advise you when you take a wrong turning because they've had their loving advice rejected too many times already. An attitude which comes close to seeing ourselves as the fount of all wisdom will in all probability lead at best to superficiality in our relationships with others and at worst hypocrisy.
The Bible has plenty to say to us about this, particularly in that very practical book, Proverbs. Listen to these verses:
Pr.3:7 "Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil."
If only Eve had not listened to the serpent and believed the lie that disobedience was the path to wisdom, how things might have been different for the entire human race!
Pr.26:12 "Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him."
Pr.28:11 "A rich man is wise in his own eyes, but a poor man who has understanding will find him out."
Isaiah too wrote in similar vein when he penned:
Is.5:21 "Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight."
So this morning we have from Paul some very simple straightforward advice concerning the way we are to relate to one another in church life.
While the exhortations are clear cut they are nevertheless difficult to put into practice but we can go to God in prayer that he might help us to do so.
Are you prepared to do this? Blessings abound when these attitudes are dominant in the life of a local church.
If you have not yet committed yourself as a disciple of Jesus Christ this is the type of lifestyle that will be expected of you when you do become a Christian. Don't hold back criticising Christians for failure to be perfect. Rather come to Jesus, the Saviour that you need so much, and begin to work with them to develop these wholesome attitudes in response to the Saviour's love.