NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XXXVIII)
Verse 16: Live together in peace with each other. Don’t be proud, be willing to humble yourself and become friends with people who are looked down upon. Don’t think of yourself as smarter than everyone else.
Oh how woefully we have neglected this admonition by the great Apostle Paul. Today it seems that the fad among men and women of the cloth is to only associate with the elite. It is no longer the destitute, the beggar, the common laborer or the underprivileged who command their attention, but presidents, politicians, showmen, and business tycoons. To be seen in the company of the educated, popular, and wealthy is the ultimate goal. Some would rather receive the benign smile of a person who denies the tenets of the very faith these ministers preach than embrace the warm fellowship and approval of unheralded saints. Others are willing to be noncommittal and hesitant when asked about their belief in heaven or hell; in Jesus Christ being the only way, the truth, and the only door to salvation; even vacillating on whether the Word of God is the full and true revelation of Jesus Christ as the only Savior of mankind. God help us!
The idea of community life promoting consensus and cooperation was already part of Jewish ethics and customs. We are told by the Hebrew Chronicler: “The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the rulers told them by the Word of the Lord.”1 Also, during the days of Jeremiah the prophet, God had this message for His people: “I will give them singleness of heart and singleness of purpose so that they will reverence Me forever – this will be for their own good and for the good of their children after them.”2
This same mindset was present in the early Christian community. Luke tells us: “Many followers acted and thought the same way. None of them said that any of their things were their own, but they shared all things.”3 This gave Paul the inspiration to tell the Corinthians: “Christian brothers, I ask you with all my heart in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to agree among yourselves. Do not be divided into little groups. Think and act as if you all had the same mind.”4 He also expected the same from the Philippians: “Live your lives as the Gospel of Christ says you should. If I come to you or not, I want to hear that you are standing true as one. I want to hear that you are working together as one, preaching the Good News.”5
But Paul wasn’t through it, he goes on: “Give me true joy by thinking the same thoughts. Keep having the same love. Be as one in thoughts and actions. Nothing should be done because of pride or thinking about yourself. Think of other people as more important than yourself. Do not always be thinking about your own plans only. Be happy to know what other people are doing.”6 And finally, Paul gets personal and says: “I ask Euodias and Syntyche to agree as Christians should.”7 The Apostle Peter was of the same mind: “You must share the same thoughts and the same feelings. Love each other with a kind heart and with a mind that has no pride.”8
However, Paul wants to be even more specific with the Roman believers. Apparently, he had been informed of certain tensions within the congregation. And notice, the first thing he mentions is conceit. The Greek adjective hypsēlos, that means having high aspirations, that Paul employs here is with the noun phroneō, which refers to the mind. Put together, they imply high-mindedness, egocentricity, having a high opinion of one’s self. Thayer, in his Lexicon, suggests that Paul uses it here to describe those who are highly opinionated.
It was certainly not something that plagued King David. In one of his Psalms, he wrote: “Adonai, my heart isn’t proud; I don’t set my sight too high, I don’t take part in great affairs or in wonders far beyond me. No, I keep myself calm and quiet, like a little child on its mother’s lap.”9 But things were different during the days of Jeremiah, who gave this word of the LORD to Baruch bar Neriyah: “Are you seeking to accomplish great things? Don’t! For I am bringing disaster on everything living,’ says Adonai.”10
The greatest example of the absence of such conceit was when Satan visited Jesus in the wilderness during His 40-day fast. No matter what the devil offered to fulfill any high opinion Jesus may have had of Himself as the Son of God, our Lord pushed it aside by using the Holy Scriptures.11 However, later on, Jesus found this same sense of meekness was lacking in His own disciples.12 But the Apostle Peter wanted no such attitude to develop among his readers, so he wrote them: “Do not be dictators over the people you lead. Live as you would like to have them live.”13 In fact, the Apostle John had a problem with a person like this in one of the churches over which he was Bishop.14
But there’s more. Paul tells them that as leaders they should be willing to work with those who perform the most mundane, everyday jobs in the church. Thayer, in his Lexicon, says that it means: “To yield or submit one’s self to lowly things, conditions, employment, – not to evade their power.” It is interesting to note that Paul only uses this word one more time in Galatians 2:13, and Peter employs it in his second letter in 3:17. On those two occasions it is utilized in the negative, but here in Romans Paul makes positive use of the idea of being influenced by the opinion of others.
Even the wise man Job certainly understood this virtue: “If I did not listen to my menservants and women servants when they complained against me, what will I do when God speaks to me? When He asks me why, what will I answer Him?”15 And Solomon had several things to say about this. First he writes: “He who mocks the unsuccessful insults his maker; he who rejoices at catastrophes will not go unpunished.”16 He goes on to write: “All the brothers of an unsuccessful man despise him. How much more do his friends go far from him! He runs to them with ideas, but they are nowhere to be found.”17 Jesus perpetuated this idea when He spoke to the irate Jewish leaders who were upset that He would not tell the children who were crying out, as He entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, “Hosanna, Son of David!” to be quiet. So our Lord quoted to them what was written in the Psalms: “From the mouth of children and infants you have prepared praise for yourself.18”19
But there was another side to this equation, and that was for those in leadership not to think so highly of themselves that they expected special treatment. Paul outlined this for Timothy: “Those who live a godly life are always happy with what they have. We came into this world with nothing. For sure, when we die, we will take nothing with us. If we have food and clothing, let us be happy. But people who want more and more money are led into temptation. They become trapped into doing all kinds of foolish things which hurt them. These things drag them into bad behavior and end up destroying them.”20 In the Book of Hebrews, we find a similar thought: “Keep your lives free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have.”21 In fact, the Apostle James goes so far as to say: “Listen, my dear Christian brothers, God has chosen those who are lacking in the things of this world to be rich in faith. The holy nation of heaven is theirs. That is what God promised to those who love Him.”22
Then Paul comments on one of the major causes of conceit and high-mindedness in his day. It is almost verbatim of what Solomon said: “Don’t be conceited about your own wisdom.”23 In fact, later on in Proverbs it says: “If you see a person who is wise in their own eyes, there is more hope for a fool than for them.”24 And the prophet Isaiah had the same opinion: “It will be bad for those who are so wise in their own eyes that they think they know everything.”25 Could it be that Paul had this say verse in mind when he told the Corinthians: “Do not fool yourself. If anyone thinks he knows everything there is to know in this world, he had better admit that he is a fool so he can wise up.”26
Origen addresses this need for humility among all peoples. For him, a conceited person immersed in their own arrogance cannot know the wisdom of God as long as they cling to their own foolishness, thinking it is wisdom.27 And for Ambrosiaster, a person who is contemptuous, is full of the same pride that got the devil thrown out of heaven. Solomon made it clear, “God resists the proud.”28 We must put our own pride aside to make room for helping others with their needs if we want to be acceptable to God.29
This is followed by Pelagius’ instructions telling us to respect one another as we would respect ourselves. Anyone who takes it upon themselves to avenge any wrongs done to them by others, is really being arrogant and gives no thought to the fact that they may suffer humiliation as a consequence. Don’t go around telling everyone how clever you are. Don’t try to outsmart the world so that God can fill you with His wisdom.30 When you hear a minister talk to the congregation as though they know all there is to know about conducting themselves in this world in order to prove themselves as genuine Christians, and unless you listen to them you will never be able to excel and reach their level of expertise in all things spiritual, be careful. Taste to see if it has the flavor of God’s Word before you swallow everything they are saying.
1 2 Chronicles 30:12
2 Jeremiah 32:39
3 Acts of the Apostles 4:32
4 1 Corinthians 1:10
5 Philippians 1:27
6 Ibid. 2:2-4
7 Ibid. 4:2
8 1 Peter 3:8
9 Psalm 131:1-2 – Complete Jewish Bible
10 Jeremiah 45:5
11 See Luke 4:6-11
12 Luke 22:24-27
13 1 Peter 5:3
14 3 John 1:9
15 Job 31:13-14
16 Proverbs 17:5
17 Ibid. 19:7
18 Psalm 8:2
19 Matthew 21:16
20 1 Timothy 6:6-9
21 Hebrews 13:5
22 James 2:5
23 Proverbs 3:7
24 Ibid. 26:12
25 Isaiah 5:21
26 1 Corinthians 3:18
27 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
28 Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5
29 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
30 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.