Romans 12:16 “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.”
It is very important that a husband and wife be of the same mind. Part of the purpose of courtship is to discover whether you mind the same things. In other words, do you share the same values? Do you have the same purpose in mind concerning your home and your future life? The bent or bias of your characters should be the same. So before marriage you walk and sit together talking and dreaming about your futures; in your absences from one another you send text or Email messages sharing your lives. Then one day he might say something that brings you up with a jolt. You were not happy with that. You did not have that in mind about your life together. Then you are not so certain. You have to sort that out. You must agree over that issue. You know how important it is to have the same mind.
Part of the Bible’s emphasis about marriage being in the Lord is that you share the same mind on many issues, values and morals, how you spend your money, what you do with your spare time, how you’re going to train your children, what you’re going to teach them about who they are, their origin and their goal in life. What is man’s chief end? Sundays come around very quickly. One seventh of your life is going to be a Sunday. That’s a long period not to be of the same mind. Our N.I.V. translation says, “Live in harmony with one another.” It is a bit of a paraphrase, unfortunately. Paul is saying, “be of the same mind one toward another.”
1. FELLOW CHRISTIANS IN PARTICULAR SHOULD BE OF THE SAME MIND.
Paul is absolutely insistent that Christians be of the same mind as their fellow believers, not people parading their differences, not cranky, not loners, not angular, not awkward, not self-conscious ‘personalities,’ but men who live in harmony with their fellow believers. I was reading a church website recently. You can describe the minister as a Reformed Baptist. This is how he describes himself on the church website; “Amongst my interests are aviation, scuba-diving, rock-climbing, golf, badminton, traveling, theatre, cinema, and having lots of fun and laughs. I also enjoy watching comedy, documentaries, F1 motor-racing, tennis, golf and snooker on television.” Isn’t this such a self-conscious catalogue; such a projection of himself? There could be a farmer who is this man’s elder. What is he going to write about himself? Will he want to write anything about himself?
The congregation hires us. The workers in the congregation put their hands in their pockets and they take out money with which they support us. They deprive themselves of their hard-earned money to feed, clothe and house us. They say, “Pastor, we don’t want you to work in an office or a school. We want you to be free to speak increasingly richly on our behalf, to visit the lost, bring back the wanderer and encourage the weak Christian.” Our members work from 9 through 5, five days a week and support us so that we can give ourselves to the Word of God and prayer. There are thousands living around us never having heard the gospel. We have to be visiting the sick and the house-bound; there is the ministry of mercy, studying the Bible, preparing sermons, praying, and writing letters to missionaries. I suppose we are intended to think after reading of this man’s interests, “What a fascinating man! He is not just a strait-laced religious man.” But we preach not ourselves but Jesus Christ the Lord. It matters nothing should you think I’m a wonderful man if you don’t think much of my Saviour. The gospel is to make us think, “What a fascinating Saviour!”
This minister is in danger of parading before the world the things whereby he stands out from other people – others in the congregation and others also in his village. Who cares what are his hobbies? Is he full of a sense of God? Does he make God real and glorious and beautiful when he speaks of the Lord? When he visits a dying old Christian is she going to be fascinated by any of that stuff? Will she want to hear him talk of them? Too many hobbies are not to our own spiritual good. Can you imagine a Spurgeon, a M’Cheyne, a Henry Martyn, an apostle Paul thinking in such a way, listing all that stuff – let alone claiming that they enjoyed “having lots of fun and laughs.” Let us be modest about our degrees, our books, our achievements, our families and our interests. A Christian may be a professional rugby player, a member of the British Lions, but on Sunday he doesn’t want to talk about that. He doesn’t want to be the centre of a group of admiring, fawning men and women. He wants to be a mere sinner saved by grace. He wants the talk to concentrate on the word of God and the Lord Jesus. “I must decrease and he must decrease,” he is thinking.
Ministers especially need to insist on that. There are things you keep to yourself. There is a comedy programme you watch on TV and you are indiscrete enough to tell people about it, but when they look at the programme it might be a particularly risqué episode – “Ooh! That’s what the pastor watches!” Let’s not give the appearance of bragging or having interests that can make other people jealous. Let’s strive to be of one mind with our congregation and that mind is the mind of Christ.
Remember Paul had to confront a problem in the Philippian congregation of two women named Euodia and Syntyche who were at loggerheads. Disputes among Christians come about usually as a result of pride and jealousy. Each of these women clung to her own opinion and wouldn’t give way to the other. There was an entrenched position of stubbornness and selfishness. They were gifted women and both of them had served with Paul, but God’s gifts must be used in God’s way, through patience and prayer, not by force of personality. Their quarrels would have drawn other people in the church into the cool void between them; members were taking sides. The crack was widening.
Paul wrote to them most earnestly, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche
to agree with each other in the Lord” (Phils. 4:2). Be of the same mind! It was absolutely crucial for the sake of the testimony of the whole congregation. Paul was concerned that Christian men and women should understand one another and be sympathetic to one another. We are all quite different people. We are not a sheet of postage stamps, and that is good. Only the cults clamp down on individuality. They want to control their members completely. Yet, however different we are from one another we have to do everything to keep the unity of the Spirit in the congregation and be one in spirit and affection and mind. This is so important a theme in the New Testament.
For example, note how solemnly Paul speaks of this to the Corinthians in I Corinthians chapter one and the tenth verse; “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” There were personality cults developing in the congregation, fans of Peter and fans of Paul and fans of Apollos boasting in their favourites, and Paul could see the red hazard lights flashing, appealing to them that there be no divisions. What a standard he sets for them; “be perfectly united in mind and thought.” Do you hesitate about promoting or pursuing something in the church because it could fracture fellowship and also draw attention to yourself? Or again hear Paul’s words to the congregation in Philippi; “Stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel” (Phils. 1:27). This congregation is to be utterly united as if it did not have a hundred different spirits in a hundred strong congregation but one single spirit. A hundred bodies here, yes, but we act as one spirit and one man. An American student conference was here one summer and one of them asked us who was ‘Alfred Place.’ They thought the church was named after some early benefactor called ‘Alfred Place.’ ‘Alfred Place’ is a useful mythical figure standing firm in one spirit contending for the faith of the gospel.
In what ways are you different from other Christians? In many ways, in personality, education, race, gender, age, possessions, interests and I.Q.; in such matters we are all different, and that is healthy and essential, but concerning the truths of the gospel we are not at variance. Those truths have been defined and given to us by God. We are all to believe them and contend for them. Those truths unite us and they are far more important than the things that make us different from one another. We don’t parade our differences so as to bring pressure on our unity in Christ. The stones that make up the church are all different shapes and sizes, but the foundation we stand on is one, and that is so for every single congregation the whole world over. The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord. Think of the last words of John Brown of Haddington; “If I never write to you more, let these be my last words: There is none like Christ – none like Christ – none like Christ. Nothing like redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace. There is no learning nor knowledge like the knowledge of Christ, no life like Christ living in the heart by faith, no work like the service of Christ, and no riches or wealth like the unsearchable riches of Christ.” That is our conviction as Christians, and that is our unity and that is what we must keep. Nothing must detract from that to make us think about man.
God has also spelled out how we should live day by day – be this kind of father, and this kind of wife – and so we think alike and mind the same things in our behaviour so there is no division, no schism, but unity as Christian people. Let’s do all we can to keep the unity. Paul writes to one of his friends in the Philippian congregation about the difference of opinion between Euodia and Syntyche and he says to him, “help these women” (Phils. 4:3). You must help in bringing people together. Don’t ignore every single tension in a congregation. Some are creating a crack which is widening. I have to go at times to men or women who have a grievance with me and I have to sit down while they dish out their reasons for their hostility. If my visit would achieve no more then it helps release their head of steam. Paul asks his friend to try to help people to be reconciled. It is not easy, but God will help us if we go in the Spirit of Christ. So there should be one mind in the local church.
2. CHRISTIANS ARE TO BE OF ONE MIND WITH THEIR NEIGHBOURS.
This latter section of Romans 12 is basically about relationships with the people who are not Christians, and Paul is telling us that we are to live in harmony with them. I am talking about people who worship other gods, who live by another system of right and wrong, those with whom we don’t have a lot in common. We are poles apart from them in our morals and our attitudes and as to what are the important things in life. They live in darkness as far as Christ is concerned. The Bible tells us that the whole world lies in wickedness. Now that does not mean that all men are as bad as they could be, or as bad as they will be, but there is an enmity in men’s hearts towards the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and towards the law of God. We children of God are of a very different mind to them. In fact we are commanded to separate ourselves from worshiping with them, and from those sinful practices that they organize. Let’s look at the second letter to the Corinthians and chapter six, and notice the words ‘yoked together’, and ‘in common’, and ‘fellowship’, and ‘agreement’ in the following verses; I will emphasize them as I read them to you. “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.’” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
There are places utterly impossible for Christians to be. You know what I am talking about, don’t you? I am referring to such activities as pub crawls, and brothels, and swinging parties, and orgies, and gang fights, and pornographic movies, and drug-taking, and drunken stag nights. What do you, a follower of the Lamb of God, have in common with them? What harmony is there between you and them? The holy God lives with us and walks with us and we are his people. Jesus Christ lives in our hearts and we have illimitable access to him. I know sometimes we may get trapped. We were not expecting things to get out of hand as they did. So you have a mobile phone and you go to the bathroom or somewhere private, explain, and call your family or friends to come and pick you up. So there are places and gatherings that physically you exit, from which you remain separate.
Then there are other gatherings and they are trickier, and only you know whether you can cope with them or not. There is the British pub, and generally Christians find those that are largely inns and restaurants to be places we may use with thankfulness, but in the evenings as places to drink, with loud background music, and bouncers at the door judgi
ng whether we may enter or not as unhelpful places. I think that even our friends in the Salvation Army do not find those hostelries and clubs as conducive places to sell their War Cry’s. But there are other associations that are trickier to judge. I am thinking of political and cultural and trade union and educational and social and sporting associations. There are no blatant carnal extremes, but the underlying values are not those you can share wholeheartedly. For example the concept of the class war; no Christian is happily involved belonging to an organization that promotes a class war. Or again the spreading power of the state; no Christian is at home with a movement that wants to put everything in life in the hands of Caesar. You have to decide whether you can with a clear Christian conscience be a part of those organizations. I would just say that you must ask to see the constitution or aims of an organization before you join it.
I don’t think there is much disagreement with the fact of the separated Christian life, and yet while we have to disengage ourselves from what reeks of the lusts of the world we know that we are sent by God to work right in the midst of this groaning creation day by day. Just as the Father sent his Son into this world so the Son sends us. We go to sinners on the same errand of self-denying love. We don’t wait until they come to us on our terms. Jesus says that he doesn’t pray that we will be taken out of the world – for we are the salt and light of the world – but he does pray that we will be kept from the evil. You mix with your neighbours on all lawful occasions. Most of those hobbies that that young preacher listed are permissible interests as long as he is not preoccupied with them and is in bondage to any of them. There are also occasions we cannot miss, family gatherings, anniversaries, birthdays, weddings and parties. You go along though you may be the only Christian there. You go to them though perhaps you are a strict teetotaler and alcohol is served. It is your liberty to go. God will keep you if you cry to him asking he’d be with you. I am saying that you seek out people who actually go to those unspeakable places. You don’t need to go to those places, but you do need to go to those people. Jesus was a friend of sinners and he visited their houses and he spoke to them and dealt with them, trying to help them. What are they engaged in? What are their interests? What burdens do they carry? When do they weep? What gives them joy? You go to learn and you become interested. Some of the things they enthuse about are unworthy. They are not interesting to you, but what of that? You do not stop the flow of kindness towards them. You try to put yourself in their shoes. You look at things from their perspective. Then they begin to have some confidence in you. They discover that you mind the things they mind. You notice and appreciate them. This is living in harmony with people who are not Christians. You do not offer them kindness on your terms.
You initially listen to a man as he talks about his days, and then he notices that you are not paying attention. You are listening impatiently; your eyes are glazing over; you are showing signs of being bored. There is embarrassment and disappointment because he sees you cannot enter into his life, and then you are cross with yourself that as a Christian you lost this opportunity of loving your neighbour as yourself. You lacked being of the same mind with him, but that is exactly what we are told to do in our text. Our neighbour is made in God’s image, and he has a never dying soul, and there must be some community of mind between you. It must be genuine; it cannot be forced or faked.
Sometimes our neighbours are children. I spent three days in Ulster with one of my favourite families, four children between three and eight and once again I played hide and seek with them, and read stories to them and did tricks for them, so much so that they have told their Mommy that they think my real reason for coming to Ulster is to play with them. It is a wonderful complement. And then after a month one will write me a letter and ask when I am coming to them again. They are watching me; they read my heart; they are shrewd and know if my mind is growing weary of communicating with their minds. You overlook their little petulances and tiny outbreaks of mischief which will bother their parents much more than you. You are cheerfully patient with them listening to what they say learning to be of the same mind as they have.
Sometimes our neighbours are our persecutors. We want them to be of the same mind as ourselves. That is our heart’s desire and prayer to God, that they live to God’s glory, that their souls are saved, but, grievously, now they oppose you; they irritate and annoy you. It is hard for you to smother your indignation but you dare not curse them, not even from under the sheets in bed. You ask God to bless them by making them of the same mind as yourself. You pray fervently for your enemies; you wish the very best for them. You don’t drop a complement on them from some great distance. You don’t isolate yourself from them; you are not to be arrogant and condescending towards your enemy. He is your fellow man even though he is not a fellow-Christian, and so you feel for him and with him. He has some human and natural longings and sorrows and you cannot separate yourself from him. I was talking to a Democratic Unionist, a Christian Member of Parliament, ten days ago in Belfast, and he told me that the leader of the Sinn Fein party had lost his mother last month and though this man is suspected of having been a terrorist my friend sought an opportunity to express his condolences to the man. He went up to him and said to him how sorry he was to hear of his mother’s death and how important at times like that to be trusting in the Lord Jesus.
Sometimes our neighbours are the folk next door. The Citizens Advice Bureau says that the first two problems with which they are confronted are debt and neighbours. I have told you of the neighbour of the Beeke family when they were growing up in North America. The man who lived next door was a hard and critical man. If a ball went onto his property the boys would never get it back. He would shout at them and show his anger for any reason, but Mrs. Beeke, Joel’s mother, sought to be of the same mind as this man. If she spotted him she would make a beeline for him immediately. “Oh Mr. So and so, how are you today? How is the family? Isn’t it such a pretty day?” He would have turned his back on the family when he was in his yard and unexpectedly they came out of the house but Mrs. Beeke would approach him and walk around him and look up into his face and talk to him at any and every opportunity; “How are you . . . how is your wife . . . what a pretty day.”
I am saying that you cannot and must not separate yourself from your worst enemy or from the worst enemy of your Lord. You cannot school your mind into an unsympathetic and cold attitude to him so that when he is grieving over the loss of his wife, or she is dying of some malignancy, you remain untouched. That is sin. Maybe the officers of the Inquisition as they tortured and burned and hung and drew and quartered the servants of God could do so untouched by the sufferings they inflicted and witnessed. Maybe the Islamic butchers who execute in utter barbarism the servants of God remain unfeeling, but you dare not. You bless them that persecute you. You go on blessing them. This is not a show you put on for their benefit and when they are not there your expression changes and you wish they were dead. No. You sit beside them and without weariness listen to them patiently and naturally. They do not ask you a single question about yourself, but they will receive all your inquiries about themselves as to the manor born, your privilege is to
be interested in their lives. It does not matter. Our duty as Christians is to be of the same mind as the men of this world even those who are the most scornful opponents of the gospel. There can be no effective evangelism without there being one mind with our neighbours. Sympathy and love will touch their hearts and prepare them for your words.
3. THERE ARE THREE ATTITUDES YOU MUST AVOID.
i] A Perverse Mind. “Live in harmony with one another.” There is a wrong-headedness that masquerades as a stand you are taking for principle, or for a pure conscience, or for never surrendering to compromise, but basically it is a stubborn refusal to be of the same mind as others. Is the gospel at stake? Are you being asked to do something wrong? No. Then meeting half-way is preferable to mutual annihilation. Think of the situation in the early church. At first they were all converted Jews, and then multitudes of uncircumcised Gentiles were converted. Some of the Jewish Christians wanted the Gentiles to be circumcised and keep the Jewish laws as they all did and had always done. This request threatened to tear the church in half. There were many Jewish Christians who took years to grasp some simple Christian truths. Forgiveness of sins is God’s free gift in Jesus Christ. Ultimately it is not what you do but what he has done that is the foundation of our salvation. Nothing else is required for entry to heaven but Jesus Christ alone, no special foods, no special feasts, no circumcision. You entrust yourself into the safe keeping of Jesus Christ and you are justified.
It took years for the early Christians to grasp that. It took the letter to the Galatians for them to grasp it. It took a decade for leaders like Peter and Barnabas to grasp it. It took the Council of Jerusalem for church to grasp it. What did it decide? It did not say, “No feasts, no circumcision and you can eat pork. That is it, understand?” It did not impose that on the church disciplining those who disagreed. The leaders longed for Jewish and Gentile Christians to live in harmony with one another and so they asked for understanding and sympathy and some compromise all round. They came to this conclusion which they sent to the Gentile believers: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell” (Acts 15: 28&29). They were tender, “it seems good to us” and yet authoritative, “and good to the Holy Spirit.” These Gentiles had always bought meat from the butcher shops around the temples. The meat there had been sacrificed in the temples. There was no black magic influence in the flesh to hurt anyone. They had the liberty to go on buying and cooking and eating it. There is nothing wrong in eating blood, or eating meat from an animal that had been strangled and then slaughtered, but they asked the Gentiles would they please respect their Jewish brethren’s sensitivities on these issues and avoid those things. Sympathizing with Jewish traditions weren’t necessary for salvation but they were necessary for peace. How important is peace to you? We aim to be united on God’s principles, and tolerant of diverse preferences. That is the foundation of living in harmony.
So Jerusalem sent a message off to Antioch of the Gentiles and what happened there? Was there a big fight? Did people chant, “No surrender! No surrender!” Did they protest, “Who are those Jews to tell us Gentiles what we may or may not do?” No they didn’t, for we are told this. “The men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message” (Acts 15:30&31). They did not have a perverse mind. They were more concerned to be of one mind with their Jewish brothers and sisters, and live in harmony with them rather than exercise their liberty and buy meat from the butchers next door to the temples. So let us avoid a perverse mind.
ii] A Partial Mind. “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.” It quickly became a danger in the early church, as James points out at the famous beginning of the second chapter of his letter; “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4). If in times of great growth and blessing officers in the church were behaving in such a way that this exhortation needed to be written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit how much more is favouritism present in congregations today? You see it when some poor people, not very gifted, leave the church after a year or so and go to another congregation in the town. Members shrug, or they barely notice that they’ve gone. But if people of rank leave the church then there is a post mortem and there are criticisms leveled at the congregation and its leaders. When that happens then you know that this unthinkable snobbishness and discrimination is being shown in our own church.
Here is a Christian leader and without an effort, without condescension, but naturally, simply and spontaneously he visits all kinds of people. He is one of them. Their interests are his. However poor and needy they might be he is among them. He is at home with them; he is with them on equal terms. He stoops to conquer proud hearts. He becomes all things to all men. I am thinking of Keith Underhill of Donhom in Nairobi and how there is not a slum area, or a shanty town, a tenement flat that he does not visit, sitting, eating and drinking whatever is given him, spending hours with the people there. The reason for the great growth and effectiveness of that congregation and its spread throughout Kenya and into Uganda and Somalia is that Keith fulfils this commandment, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.” He does not have a partial mind.
iii] A Proud Mind. “Do not be conceited.” You have been a Christian for many years. Good, but do not be conceited. You are an elderly person. Good, but do not be conceited. You have been a member of this church for decades. Then do not be conceited. You have a grasp of Christian truth. Then do not be conceited. You are a well known preacher who preaches round the world. Then do not be conceited. You have written books and you address conferences of ministers. Then do not be conceited. There was once an angel in heaven and he would have been the last creature any of the angels thought would be full of pride, but that angel became conceited. Don’t think that a proud heart is impossible for you. When I see trifles being exaggerated then I see conceit. When I see extravagant excitement over flimsiness then I see pride. When I see God resisting a minister then I know it’s because of that preacher’s conceit. You pray for me, that I might humble myself under God’s hand.
I knew a gospel church in south Wales (not in Cardiff) which had become the fashionable church to attend. If you went there and were a member of that congregation then you con
sidered yourselves to be rather special. A spirit of conceit had fallen on that church and so the judgment of God that swiftly came upon it was fearful. It was torn in two; there were notable falls into carnality. Today it still exists and it preaches the same old gospel, but now as a chastened congregation and a far humbler church. Let’s tremble when we hear that. Let us cry, “Make us poor in spirit. Help us to mourn. Deliver us from conceit and a proud mind. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
10th May 2009 GEOFF THOMAS