Pastor David B. Curtis

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Unity Through Humility

Romans 12:3-5

Delivered 07/15/2012

We are in the final section of the book of Romans that runs from 12:1 thru 16:27. After eleven chapters of doctrine, Paul urges the believers to present themselves to Yahweh:

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. Romans 12:1 NASB

The Christian life is built on the mercy of God. This presentation of ourselves as a living sacrifice is not in order to win God's favor, but to express our deep gratitude because of His favor. Paul is calling the believers in Rome, and I believe all believers, to present their lives for service to Yahweh.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2 NASB

"World" here is a bad translation; it should be "this age." And since the "this age" ended in A.D. 70, we don't have to be concerned with being conformed to it. So in Romans 12:2 Paul is talking to the saints in first century Rome--he is talking about covenant transformation from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, so his words do not directly apply to us today.

Now let me just say here that I believe that as we spend time in God's word our lives are changed, our thinking is changed, but this is not what Paul is talking about here. He is talking about covenant transformation that was completed by A.D. 70.

This morning we pick up our study in verse 3:

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. Romans 12:3 NASB

"For," which is the Greek gar, is here to explain and unpack verses 1 and 2. The exhortations in verses 3-8 flow out of the call for presenting ourselves to Yeshua as a living sacrifice.

"Through the grace given to me"--Paul is emphasizing his apostolic status. Paul's unique apostolic role and authority is a constant theme in his letters:

and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Galatians 2:9 NASB

Paul is referring specifically to Yahweh's grace that ordained him to a position of authority, the position of an apostle. He is speaking to them authoritatively; this is not a suggestion.

"I say to everyone among you"--Paul is now addressing the individual believers. This exhortation is addressed to every member of the community in an emphatic way. The command is: "Not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think"--this is obviously cultural and only for the first century saints. We don't have a problem thinking too highly of ourselves, our problem is low self esteem. You know that I am joking, don't you? This command is to every believer at Rome and to all believers at all times in all places, we all struggle with pride.

I see this exhortation as primarily racial, directed to the Jews and Gentiles in the Roman Church. Paul was appealing to the two communities not to think more highly of themselves than they should. This is not Paul's first warning against pride. Three times in chapter 11, he warned them against pride and conceit:

do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. Romans 11:18 NASB

This is directed to the Gentiles, warning them of arrogance against the non-Christian Jews. He gives the same warning again in:

Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; Romans 11:20 NASB

Then in verse 25 he says:

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery--so that you will not be wise in your own estimation--that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; Romans 11:25 NASB

Again he emphasizes that he does not want the Gentiles or the Jews to be conceited. Neither is better than the other; both of them stand by grace in the same body, so there is no room for pride.

He goes on in the letter to say:

Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Romans 12:16 NASB

Historically, the Jews and Gentiles hated each other. And even after they became Christians there was still this potential to think of themselves as better than the other race. So this exhortation is directed primarily,I believe,at pride of race, but it is directed also at pride of spiritual gifts as we will see in the following verses. But pride, no matter what the cause, is a universal sin that is condemned through out the Scriptures.

"Not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment"--in this phrase Paul uses a form of the Greek verb "phroneo" four times. The word phroneo means: "To think, to exercise the mind, to have an opinion or attitude." He says, "Not to huperphroneo (to think above or beyond or to think haughty) of himself than he ought to phroneo; but to phroneo so as to have sophroneo (to be reasonable or sensible; to keep the proper perspective). We could translate it this way: "I don't want you to be high-minded above that which he ought to be minded, but to be so minded as to be sober minded."

He actually looks at the extremes in our self-perception. We can be haughty, thinking that we are God's gift to the church; or we can think in a sensible, reasonable way concerning ourselves so that we recognize our constant dependency on the grace of God. The former kills church unity. The latter establishes a humility and unity that the world cannot understand.

So Paul says, "Not to huperphroneo"huper means: "above, beyond, or superior to. It is to think above, to be puffed up with an idea of your own importance and superiority." This is a constant danger we all face, and that is why this command is to all believers. Denny said, "To himself every man is in a sense the most important person in the world."

The sin of pride is most likely the chief of sins. Some even think that pride is the root of other sins. It well may be as it leads to so many other particular offenses. Older commentators spoke of pride as a "chief sin" in that other twigs grew from its fertile and fatal root.

I believe everyone here knows what pride is. I think we certainly know it when we see it. We see pride in our neighborhoods, in all corners of human existence, even in our homes. It sprouts well in the corridors of power and in every borough in America, down into the halls of the homeless. When that husband maintains one position in an argument with his wife, or when that wife stubbornly tries to get her way, pride grows. Pride seeds itself in the office suite, in the schoolroom, on the athletic field--in fact, in every corner of the universe where the active Lordship of Christ is not present. Pride is characterized by self-assertion, selfishness; its opposite, humility, is known by its selflessness.

Right now you may be thinking of someone who needs to hear this, and hoping they're listening or wishing they were here. Well, before you exclude yourself from this sin, let me read to you the comments of Albert Barns on the Greek word kenodoxia, which is pride:

Who is there who passes a single day without in some respect, desiring to display himself? What minister of the Gospel preaches, who never has any wish to exhibit his talents, eloquence, or learning. How few make a gesture, but with some wish to display the grace of power with which it is done! Who, in conversation, is always free from a desire to show his wit, or his power in argumentation? Who plays the piano without the desire of commendation? Who thunders in the senate, or goes to the field of battle; who builds a house, or purchases an article of apparel; who writes a book, or performs a deed of benevolence, altogether uninfluenced by this desire? If all could be taken out of human conduct which is performed merely from 'pride,' how small a portion would be left!

In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis calls pride the "great sin" and says this about it:

There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people except Christians ever imagine that they are guilty themselves.... There is no fault which makes man a more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others. (NY; MacMillan, 1943, p. 94)

Pride is willful arrogance, claiming to yourself what is really God's. It is essentially a lust for power, and it is far more prevalent than in rulers alone. Pride affects the commonest of people. It is no respecter of persons or position. In a power-centric society, pride is at the top of the list of sins. Today, many of us are routinely tempted with pride. Much of our very environment seduces us with pride. It is a sin of which we should constantly be aware and seek to restrain. If a person tells me they have no pride, then I know I'm dealing with a person who does not know himself very well, or else a person who is in dangerous denial.

Let's look at what the Bible has to say about pride and seek a cure. We need a pride-ectomy, or at the very least, an antidote for it.

THE CONDEMNATION OF PRIDE

Our society looks at pride as a virtue. Everything in our society is built to cater to man's pride, to build man up, to inflate his ego. But the Bible has nothing good to say about pride--nothing. The "Hebrew Wisdom Literature" is quite helpful in exhibiting the true nature of pride and also calling us to avoid it:

There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, Proverbs 6:16-17 NASB
"The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way And the perverted mouth, I hate. Proverbs 8:13 NASB
When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom. Proverbs 11:2 NASB
Through insolence comes nothing but strife, But wisdom is with those who receive counsel. Proverbs 13:10 NASB

"Insolence" here is the Hebrew word zadon, which means: "arrogance or pride":

Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; Assuredly, he will not be unpunished. Proverbs 16:5 NASB
Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling. Proverbs 16:18 NASB
A man's pride will bring him low, But a humble spirit will obtain honor. Proverbs 29:23 NASB

The Scriptures have nothing good to say about pride. It is a very destructive, very damaging, sin that is to be avoided. This teaching runs all through Scripture--God brings the proud low, but He exalts the humble. Jesus taught this:

"Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. Matthew 23:12 NASB

It is one principle with two sides. It is a promise of being brought low to those who exalt themselves, and it is a promise of exaltation to those who humble themselves. We know that the world works by inflating egos and encouraging pride. But pride has no place in the Christian life. God calls us to humility, which is the opposite of pride. Peter and James both say, "God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble." The Greek word they use for "resist" is antitassomai, which is a compound word from anti, which means: "against," and tasso, which means: "to station or arrange." In other words, God is the active antagonist of the proud. Pride is perhaps the most destructive attitude, because it puts man at enmity with God.

All through the New Testament, pride is categorized as a sin:

"For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. "All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man." Mark 7:21-23 NASB

People, pride is a sin! The Word of God has nothing good to say about pride. Now, someone may ask, "What about taking pride in our work?" Pride says, "Look how good of a job I'm doing. Aren't I wonderful." Instead of saying we take pride in our work, we should say, "I do my work to the best of my ability for the glory of God." The Bible says that we are to do whatever we do for His glory:

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, Colossians 3:23 NASB

Shouldn't we be proud of our children? No! Pride is a sin. We should be "pleased" when our children strive to do their best and seek to live godly. We need grace in order to raise our children, and God only gives grace to the humble.

THE CONSEQUENCE OF PRIDE

A specific example of the judgment against pride is seen in the prophecy about Edom, a territory southeast of Jerusalem in the desert, which had many natural fortresses. The city of Petra, the great capital city of Edom, was well fortified; it was nestled between high cliffs, and the only entrance is just wide enough for a single individual to pass through. So it was very easy for that city to be guarded by one soldier, making it almost invulnerable. Notice what Yahweh said about Petra:

"The arrogance of your heart has deceived you, You who live in the clefts of the rock, In the loftiness of your dwelling place, Who say in your heart, 'Who will bring me down to earth?' "Though you build high like the eagle, Though you set your nest among the stars, From there I will bring you down," declares the LORD. Obadiah 1:3-4 NASB

This prophecy was fulfilled, and the city of Petra was destroyed. Petra had water coming into the city in little troughs, flowing down the sides of the cliffs. When the city's water supply had been cut off by its adversaries, the people eventually had to surrender for lack of water. God brought them down from their lofty pride.

We also see the consequence of pride in the story of Uzziah, king of Judah. God had exalted him to the position of king and was using him mightily until he became proud:

And all the people of Judah took Uzziah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king in the place of his father Amaziah. 2 Chronicles 26:1 NASB
Uzziah was sixteen years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem...He did right in the sight of the LORD according to all that his father Amaziah had done. He continued to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding through the vision of God; and as long as he sought the LORD, God prospered him. 2 Chronicles 26:3-5 NASB

Please notice that last phrase, "...as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper." Seeking God is a sign of humility, prayer is a sign of humility. Uzziah humbled himself, and God exalted him.

In verses 10-15, we are told of Uzziah's military might and accomplishments, but then notice what happens in the end of verse 15:

In Jerusalem he made engines of war invented by skillful men to be on the towers and on the corners for the purpose of shooting arrows and great stones. Hence his fame spread afar, for he was marvelously helped until he was strong. But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the LORD his God, for he entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. 2 Chronicles 26:15-16 NASB

According to Numbers 16:40 "...no outsider, who is not a descendant of Aaron, should come near to offer incense before the LORD...." Uzziah knew this, but in his pride he disobeyed the word of the Lord. Pride is an attitude of self glorification, and attempt to disown his dependence on God. Pride sets the will of the creature against the will of the Creator. Pride violates the first commandment--to have other gods before our Creator. Pride puts self before God. Because of this sin of pride, God judged him with leprosy:

King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death; and he lived in a separate house, being a leper, for he was cut off from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son was over the king's house judging the people of the land. 2 Chronicles 26:21 NASB

He went from being the king of Judah, a powerful military leader, to being a leper, a social outcast. Uzziah is an example of the truth that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Henry Ward Beecher said, "Pride slays thanksgiving, but a humble mind is the soil out of which thanks naturally grow.... A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves."

THE CONVERSION OF PRIDE

The solution to the problem of pride is to see yourself in a proper manner. To see yourself as a sinner saved and sustained by the grace of God alone. All we are, and all we have, is a gift of grace from God; what do we have to be proud about?:

For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? 1 Corinthians 4:7 NASB

We do differ from one another. Some of us are smarter than others, some of us are better looking than others, some of us are more talented than others. Some of us are more gifted than others. We do differ, but who makes us to differ? The answer of course is God!

The LORD said to him, "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Exodus 4:11 NASB

What do you have that is not a gift from God? Looks? Intelligence? Popularity? Talents? Possessions? This is true even of those things which are acquired by great self-denial and exertion:

"But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. Deuteronomy 8:18 NASB

We have absolutely no good thing that we did not receive. Let's look at David's prayer:

"Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. "Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone. "Now therefore, our God, we thank You, and praise Your glorious name. "But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You. "For we are sojourners before You, and tenants, as all our fathers were; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope. "O LORD our God, all this abundance that we have provided to build You a house for Your holy name, it is from Your hand, and all is Yours. 1 Chronicles 29:11-16 NASB

What do we have that we have not received? In this single sentence, Augustine saw the whole doctrine of grace. When we think of what we have done, and think of what God has done for us, pride is ruled out, and only humble gratitude remains.

Have you ever realized what a pointless thing pride really is? Since we possess only what God has given us, why do we boast as if we had created the things ourselves or earned them? Everything you are and everything you have, you owe to God. In the life of a believer, there is no place for pride.

The Scriptures teach us that pride is a great hindrance to love and prayer:

and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14 NASB

Prayer is an act of humility, it is saying, "God, I need You, I need your help." And on the other hand, prayerlessness is pride. It is saying, "God, I'm not praying because I don't need You or any help from You." You can judge the extent of your pride by the amount of time you spend in prayer. Think about that!

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 1 Corinthians 13:4 NASB

Paul tells us that love "is not arrogant." The Greek word here is phusioo, which means: "blowing; to inflate." Figuratively, it means: "make proud." This word is only used in the New Testament six times; five of those occasions are in 1 Corinthians. One of the great problems of the Corinthians was their pride. And the pride of the Corinthians demonstrated itself in a lack of love. Love is not proud. So often we are impatient and unkind to people, because we think we deserve better treatment than we are getting, this is pride. And we need to understand that the root problem in any conflict between two people is pride.

Whenever there is a division between a husband and wife, between a parent and child, between one believer and another believer, there is always a root cause, which is pride. And where there is pride, there is no love. Love is not proud.

Don't we all need to be a little more on guard against pride? Aren't there some looming examples of this in all our lives? The solution to the problem of pride is to see yourself in a biblical manner. The remedy for pride is a spirit of humility--to see yourself as a sinner saved and sustained by the grace of God alone. All we are and all we have is a gift of grace from God, what do we have to be proud about?

Believer, please remember: "God resists the proud but give grace to the humble."

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 1 Peter 5:6 NASB

So Paul says, Don't be proud, "But to think so as to have sound judgment"--

Don't have an exaggerated opinion of yourself. But on the other hand, don't come along with all that false modesty that says I'm nothing. We actually deny the effective power of the grace of God in Christ by saying, "I just cannot do anything right; I cannot help the body of Christ; I have nothing to offer others." You are not God's answer for today's church--Yeshua is. Nor are you a worthless, useless lump of clay that must sit on the sidelines--you have been created in Christ Jesus for good works (Eph 2:10).

"As God has allotted to each a measure of faith"--I see this as tying in how each member thinks of themself with regard to their spiritual gifts. He gives each one a particular measure of faith that will be commensurate with the gifts given for service. We'll talk about spiritual gifts next week; let me just say, I don't believe that spiritual gifts are for today. But I do believe we all have a "measure of faith." The measure of faith that God has assigned differs from Christian to Christian. Indeed it differs from time to time in the same Christian.

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, Romans 12:4 NASB

In preparation for using "body of Christ" imagery, Paul reminds the believers of the makeup of the human body. The image of the "body" is one of Paul's most powerful images for explaining the combined unity and diversity of the church. This simile, incidentally, was used in the ancient world by the pagans. They, in order to illustrate unity, spoke of the fact that we humans were one body.

The human body is an amazing organic creation of God. It is marvelously complex, yet unified, with unparalleled harmony and interrelatedness. When the members of the human body do not function in harmony, it is due to disease. It is a sad sight to see a body that, because of disease, will not respond to its head.

In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul talks about spiritual gifts and their diversity. Then beginning in verse 12 he talks about the unity of the body of Christ. In our text he talks about unity of the body and then talks about spiritual gifts.

In 1 Corinthians Paul tells them that he has some principles from body life that he wants to give to them. He tells them that in a body every member, no matter what its function, is a vital part of the body:

If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 1 Corinthians 12:17 NASB

With the help of a ludicrous illustration, Paul drives home the point of unity and mutual dependence. The human body, which consists of many parts, can never be only an eye. What good is the eye by itself? A body could not function if it were all the same part. It can't go any where, it can't talk or hear or smell. What good is an eye by itself? None! It would be a ridiculous body if every member did the same thing. The members of the body need each other.

so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Romans 12:5 NASB

Now, just like a human body, we have different members. Not every member has the same function. God has placed each one in the body as He desires (1 Cor 12:11) and gives each one the function necessary to serve the whole body (1 Cor 12:7). Since we don't have the same function, then we all have a God-designed difference.

"And individually members one of another"--this is a beautiful way of expressing a church's interdependence and unity. What Paul is saying is: "I am part of you. You are part of me. I am like your eye or your ear or your hand or your foot. And you are like my eye or my ear or my hand or my foot." "Each individual," Paul says, "is part of the other individuals in the body." The principle involved is unity amidst diversity. We're not all alike in the body of Christ. We have different functions, different backgrounds, and different preferences.

Paul not only applies this imagery to the worldwide Church, but also to the local church. He sees each believing community to be the witnessing "body of Christ" in its particular locality:"To the church of God, which is at Corinth" (1 Cor 1:2).

Paul teaches that just as each part in the body has its own specific function, so every Christian should realize that he is needed to take his place and make his contribution to the local body of Christ.

Do you see yourself as a God ordained member of this local body? May God help us all to see that every member is vital to the effective functioning of the body of Christ. And may we do our part using the abilities and talents that God has given us to edify the body of Christ.

We can only do what we do here at BBC because of many members working together. Cathy makes the worship time a joy with her beautiful voice; because of Gary, Garrett, and David Matthews, we have a nice place to meet. Stan and Sharon bring us the Voice of the Martyrs. Jeff does the web site. My mother edits the text of the message. Garrett broadcasts the message each week so others can join us; David Carraway assists Garrett. When Glenn and Betty Sue are here, it is so evident his love fills this place.

The online community also helps to make BBC what it is. Sandy is the chat room host with help from Yvonne and Lisa. Chuck edits the audio messages, Bill posts the podcast. And many of you make what we do here possible by your financial support. If you are not serving the body of Christ in some way, you should be. What is it that you can do to help? Figure it out and get involved. And let me just say that other than Cathy, I don't believe that I have asked anyone to do anything; people see a need and have the ability to fill it, and they do so. And the harmony produced is beautiful.

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