16. Humility

Meditations in Romans, Ch.12: 16:  Humility

Rom 12:16-18   Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

I have a feeling that if Paul was writing this chapter for a modern magazine, he might entitle it something like “Thirty Five ways of living at peace in today’s world”, or something similar, because it is a bit like that, a list of mini-exhortations about how to live as the children of God.

Moving on from responding to people we might prefer to push away, Paul then deals with how we should live our lives in such a manner that we are a blessing to others because ultimately, although he doesn’t say it, we too, like the Jews, are called to be a light to the rest of the world and are to reveal God to all others.

In a world where there is so often upset and conflict, Paul encourages us to be different: Live in harmony with one another.” (v.16a) I recently saw a TV program about a couple (he was an architect) who decided to build an ultra-modern house in a beautiful setting, a house that stood out as a pile of square boxes, in a row of houses that were old and traditional. More than that, somehow they had got planning permission to build about twenty feet in front of the previous building line so their house not only stood out but blocked the view either way. It was a statement of selfish lack of concern for anyone else and of course the neighbours were horrified.   To live in harmony with other people means we give consideration to them. The household that blasts out music all the time so loud it can be heard three quarters of the way down the street, is saying, ‘we don’t care about the rest of you. We don’t care if we take away your peace.’ Examples of failing to live in harmony. The household that grow massively developing Leylandi trees blocking out the light and views for the neighbours are failing to live in harmony. Living in harmony requires being considerate.

So often such behaviour is a demonstration of self-centredness which is a cousin of pride. Hence Paul counsels, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” (v.16b) Pride looks down on other people, may even despise them, thinks little of them, and certainly doesn’t want to have anything to do with such lesser beings! Many of us are what sociologists call ‘middle-class’ which means we have certain values and standards (although those have been eroded in recent years), often a strong work ethic and are tolerably well off. As the famous John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett sketch demonstrated, the tendency is for ‘the upper class’ to look down on the ‘middle class’ who look down on the ‘working class’. However, the moment we make such distinctions in our mind we put up barriers and God’s love sees no such barriers and wants to reach all men and women whoever they are. Paul is aware of all this and thus counsels about associating with people outside of your social grouping and not being conceited or proud about your own position. Again and again Scripture warns against this. Both James and Peter quote Proverbs 3:34 warning that, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (Jas 4:6, 1 Pet 5:5). In his famous ‘love passage’ Paul says, “Love is …. not proud.” (1 Cor 13:4)

But Paul is also aware that living in harmony is not always easy because other people are not always nice so he says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.” (v.17a) In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus picked up on having this right attitude: “You have heard that it was said, `Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Mt 5:38-42) Everything he said there was about having a gracious response towards those who mistreat you. Without God’s grace we cannot be these people, yet this is our calling.

He continues, “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” (v.17b) Now that is a near impossibility but we can at least aim for it. When Paul spoke about the gift that had been collected for the church in Jerusalem, he explained, “And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help. We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.” (2 Cor 8:18-21) He was sending Titus along with those who were taking the gift, as a guardian to ensure the safety of both the carriers and the gift, so there could be no room whatsoever for any criticism or gossip about potential wrong doing.

When Paul wrote to Timothy about elders (overseers) he declared, “He must also have a good reputation with outsiders.” (1 Tim 3:7) Reputation in the eyes of the world is important and so, Paul concludes, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (v.18) If we are to be a light to the rest of the world it is important how we appear to them. Very often we appear insular and self-concerned and sometimes we don’t react well to those who disagree with us in ideas or behaviour. We aren’t called to agree with their godless, self-centred, unrighteous behaviour and lifestyles, but we are called to live at peace with them so that we maintain open channels of communication with them so that we have such channels through which the word and love of god may flow when the opportunity is there. Let’s bear that in mind always.

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