9 Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. 14 Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart.
Verse 10 stood a key Roman and Greek belief absolutely on its head. “[Roman philosopher] Cicero wrote, ‘Rank must be preserved.’ Identity is determined by ladder rung. Descent is tragedy. The Greeks knew what greatness is, and for them, greatness did not involve humility. Philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre noted that humility was not considered a virtue in that world. Aristotle’s ‘great-souled man’ is extremely proud.”* Showing honor to one another was clearly counter-cultural.
Lord Jesus, shape me into a person who can share both joy and sorrow with others. Guide me to always pursue the good for others and for your kingdom. Amen.
* Ortberg, John, Who Is This Man?: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus. Zondervan. Kindle Edition, chapter 6.
** Michael J. Gorman, study note on Romans 12:16 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 295NT.
Have you ever noticed your dog matching whatever emotion you might be feeling? Our dog, Scout, is really good at this. If we’re watching a football game and get excited about the Chiefs scoring a touchdown, she runs around, wagging her tail, jumping on and off the furniture, barking excitedly. Or she can be sound asleep, but the moment the doorbell rings, she rushes to the door, barking and jumping and can’t wait to see who has arrived. (OK, this trait of hers is more than annoying and a complete training failure, but really, she is just so happy to see you!)
But when the mood is more somber, she senses that as well. When one of us is upset, sad or not feeling well, she will give a little kiss and then snuggle up next to us. She is the best comforter!
For a dog, it seems easy to “be happy with those who are happy and cry with those who are crying,” from our text in Romans 12 today. Why is it so much harder for us humans sometimes?
Oh, right. A little thing called pride. Paul tells it like he sees it in our passage today. His language is straightforward, leaving no room for doubt. He tells us plainly, “Don’t think that you’re so smart” and “don’t think that you’re better than anyone else.” Ouch.
Paul knew social rank was paramount in the Roman and Greek society and pride was seen as a virtue, not as a sin. He was strong in his conviction, calling these new Christians into an entirely different way of life and way of relating-–calling them (and us) to see everyone as equal. And while modern Christian teaching has certainly included teaching us to be humble and to turn away from prideful behaviors, it is clear our human condition is broken and most of us struggle with pride in one form or another. This tendency toward pride we have as humans-–our desire to be ranked above someone else or constantly comparing ourselves against others--disrupts our ability to just be happy for people or to have compassion when someone is hurting.
In some ways, it is as simple and straightforward as Paul lays out for us-–Be humble. Don’t think you’re better than anyone else. And love. Just…love others. When you love from a posture of humility, you can love without pretending, putting aside any differences or conflict you may have.
But because we are a broken people, we tend to make it more complicated. So today I hope you’ll join me in praying to be more like a dog-–keeping it simple by loving all people and sharing in their joy and sorrow without hesitation and without condition.
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