How should we respond to God’s great mercy toward us? Paul says our first response is to figure out what spiritual gift or gifts God has given to us, then actually use those gifts to serve other Christians in the church, while using the sound judgment God has given us (Rom 12:3-8).
We are now studying Paul’s list-like section of quick commands about how Christians should lead their everyday lives. “Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” (Rom 12:9-16)
Paul has previously commanded Christians to love and honor each other. “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” (Rom 12:16) The command in this verse carries a slightly different idea. Harmonizing with others musically requires each one to adjust his or her own pitch, not to perfectly match each other but to be compatible and pleasant when put together.
Paul is not instructing Christians to all be exactly alike in every behavior and opinion. Rather, he is commanding believers to adjust to each other in a way that produces pleasantness and order. This requires a level of mutual submission: a willingness to make different choices that will allow us all to get along together. We see this from Peter: “Finally, all of you be like-minded and sympathetic, love one another, and be compassionate and humble” (1 Pet 3:8).
To live in harmony requires humility from everyone involved. It’s not surprising, then, that Paul’s next instruction is that we not be haughty or arrogant and stuck up. He makes clear what he means with a follow-up command: associate with the lowly. In other words, don’t think of yourselves as being too good to hang out socially with anyone else at all. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.” (Phil 2:3)
One of the reasons Christianity attracted so many followers in its early days was that women and slaves and people of low social standing were all welcome to come to faith in Christ. The result was that people who would never associate anywhere else in Roman culture found themselves in relationship with each other in the church. Paul commands those on the upper levels of society to leave any class rivalry out of the church.
His final command in this verse is that Christians must never be wise in our own sight. This is an idea given over and over again throughout Scripture. “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks he is wise in this age, let him become a fool so that he can become wise.” (1 Cor 3:18) The idea is that we should not accept our own opinion as the final word.
We listen to the input and ideas of others, but submit to the Word of God. The word submit is translated from the Greek word hupotasso. The hupo means “under” and the tasso means “to arrange.” The word’s full meaning is “to obey, put under, be subject to, submit oneself unto, put in subjection under or be under obedience or obedient to.” Submitting to God’s Word means to arrange oneself under the command of divine viewpoint rather than to live according to one’s old way of life based on a human viewpoint. It is a process of surrendering our own will to that of our Father’s.
Having a humble and submissive heart is a choice we make. That means as born-again believers we daily make a choice to submit ourselves to God for the work that the Holy Spirit does in us to “conform us to the image of Christ” (Rom 8:29), so that we can harmonize with one another. Especially in this day and age, living in harmony with one another will shine like a beacon in the darkness.