Summary: A call for a realistic understanding of our need for grace and our dependence upon one another.
A New Way of Thinking About Ourselves . . . and Others
Well it’s been a stressful couple of months, getting ready for next Saturday’s wedding. Around our house we’ve been redecorating the guest room for out of town family members who are coming, refurbishing the garden, and all the other things the family of the groom are usually involved in doing.
Still, it’s probably been more stressful for David. Just consider.
--He’s begun graduate work.
--He’s started a new job.
--He’s going to be married next Saturday.
--But those are nothing compared to this—he’s just finished trading cars. Okay, go ahead and laugh. Please laugh, that was supposed to be a joke. Still, I envy the person who doesn’t find buying a new car a stressful activity . It’s stressful and usually just a little disappointing. Almost inevitably it’s disappointing because you seldom get what you think your trade-in is worth.
After all, that car or truck has taken care of you for years, you might even have a name for it, you know it’s worth far more than the authors of that Blue Book have to say. The truth is, we just tend to overestimate the worth of whatever we’re driving—even if we privately call it a rust bucket.
The language Paul uses in this passage addresses the all-too human tendency to over estimate our value, to even think of ourselves as pretty near indispensable.
Remember, Paul began this passage by calling his readers to a thoughtful commitment, a commitment rooted in a new way of thinking. The remainder of the chapter defines some of the elements of that new way of thinking.
The new way of thinking involves a new way to thinking about ourselves.
The new way of thinking begins as we recognize ourselves as men and women in need of grace who are dependent upon each other.
A TOUGH COMMAND THEN…AND NOW
Although Paul’s words are direct he doesn’t jump straight to them. He precedes his directive by announcing that he is doing so, not by any special merit he may possess but by “the grace given me.” He might have been an apostle but even that office was his by God’s special favor, not because of any virtue of Paul’s. Had he not said what he said, his next words would not have rung true. Only by acknowledging his own need for grace could he dare to say, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.” That was a tough command then; it’s a tough command now.
Before I move on I need to make an important point. Although Paul’s words certainly are a warning against pride, they are by no means grounds for seeing ourselves as worthless. Williams translates, a person must be careful “not to estimate himself above his real value.” We have ”real value” before God and our fellow humans but we must be careful to have a healthy view of it.
We are to have a “sane estimate” of our capabilities, as one writer says. That’s implied in the call to have a sober judgment about ourselves. Some our more graphic brothers and sisters in Christ might say that those with inflated views of themselves are “touched” in the head. In doing so, they would be fully consistent with Paul’s language.
Why did Paul address these words to the Romans? Was there some special problem with pride there? Any answer would be speculation.
The truth is he could have written it to Christians in any church, even our churches today. Pride is by no means a first-century sin. As Denney comments, “To himself, every man is in a sense the most important person in the world, and it always needs much grace to see what other people are, and to keep a sense of moral proportion.”
The word translated as “think” has to do with making an estimate, in this case a self estimate. Paul is warning against a sense of haughtiness, a know-all attitude that manifests itself in a superiority complex.
Such persons are not simply unteachable, they are convinced they have the only thing worth saying in the first place. Their whole demeanor threatens a church’s fellowship. The notion of mutual ministry is foreign to them because they can’t imagine ever needing to be ministered to.
The sad thing is such people may have real gifts, as we all do, but their attitude makes it impossible for them to make a positive contribution to the work of the church.
This is truly a tough command, because the attitude that prompts me to see my contribution, my talents, my ideas as indispensable makes it easy to succumb to a self-aggrandizing pride.
A TWOFOLD ANTIDOTE
What’s the antidote to the “I’m the king of the world” pride that is encouraged by so many factors in our culture?