Meditations on Practical Christianity

Romans 12:16  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Verse 16. " Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits." The apostle now presses and amplifies the important question of harmony among Christians, but especially among those who are locally united as the assembly of God. " Be of the same mind one toward another." This plainly means that in the things of God there ought to be oneness of mind amongst His children. But we are here addressed as the children of faith, as those whose thoughts and affections, whose motives and objects are formed and governed by the word of God. When this is the case, there must be concord; the word of God being one; but whenever it is a question of human opinions, there must be discord, for each one will have his own opinion.
Oh, how shall we bewail the absence of unity even among the children of faith, who profess to own no authority in divine things but the word of God! We may indeed take up a sore lamentation, for even in the most scriptural communities, the wretched will of man, not content with the word of God, broaches new thoughts, and ere long presses with vehement zeal its fully formed theories. Personal influence must then take the place of the word of God, and as each mind must necessarily give the new idea its own complexion, the original thought will be multiplied into as many forms as the minds that have received it. Such are the fearful, but unavoidable, consequences of departure from the word of God. If the Master held fast by what was plainly written, surely so should the disciple. " It is written—it is written" was the silencing prefix to the tempter. " God says—God says," should preface all we advance on divine subjects. Nothing is easier than to quote scripture when we have it, but nothing is more difficult when it is not there.
We are aware that many speak of essentials and non-essentials, but there are no such distinctions in the word of God. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and what He has written for us can never be non-essential. But all theories and observances springing from the human mind, however garnished with scripture, are not only non-essential, but dishonoring to the word of God and ruinous to faith. Our ancestors, the Reformers, clung tenaciously to many of the traditions of the old religion; but seeing it was wrong to hold them as traditions, and not willing to give them up, they searched for scriptures to justify their holding these loved relics. They found them in Borne, and then sought scripture to sanction them. In this way many things were imported into the christian church from the worship of pagans in the third and fourth centuries; and into the Reformed churches from popery in the sixteenth. And even those Christians who have left all human for divine ground, may have brought more loved relics with them than they are aware of.
The Spirit's unity is " One body;" but human opinions have formed bodies innumerable. Scripture assumes that Christians are endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit—the unity of the Spirit's forming; and so presses unity of feelings, objects, and interests. "Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus. That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ...." "Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, have the same love, being of one accord, of one mind...." " Finally, brethren, farewell. Be per-feet, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.' Rom. 15:5, 65Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: 6That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5‑6); Phil. 2:2 Cor. 13:1111Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11).
What meaneth—thou mayest well inquire, my soul—what meaneth this often-repeated precept, with so many of a kindred nature? " Be of the same mind one toward another." Rather, far, would we not answer. The heart sinks in shame, that a precept so becoming the children of one family, one hope, one destiny, should have been in all ages so utterly disregarded. And why? Pray why? Certainly not from zeal in pressing home the plain, simple word of God; that will stand on its own integrity and authority; but the self-importance which our own conceptions when promulgated give us, leads us on to a character of zeal which overlooks all other questions. Hast thou ever seen a man rise into a great heat from earnestly pressing the word of God home to the conscience? Possibly not. But how often hast thou seen the disciple of some supposed new light when closely questioned give way to anger, and, it may be, wind up in fierce contention. But the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of the Lord.
Return, Ο my soul, to the word of God. Reverently bow to that holy word; receive nothing into the chambers of thy heart that thou findest not there. Have nothing to care for or contend for but Christ and His will, so far as thou knowest it. When that which is beyond thy comprehension is pressed upon thee as of great importance, calmly listen, inquire, take it into the divine presence, and if it be of God, embrace it and hold it from Him. But if it be not of God, if it is not in His word, it is nothing to thee. See that thou holdest nothing from man; neither contend with thy brethren as to details which affect not the grand, solid foundations of christian communion.
" Mind not high things, but condescend, to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits." The great idea in the first clause of the verse is amplified in the last three. Mutual disagreement is to be avoided on all occasions, and a spirit of kindness and union to be carefully cherished. And, inasmuch as there can be no greater hindrance to unity and love than pride, he now exhorts the saints not to be ambitious, but humble, and to watch against self-conceit.
It is natural for man to be aspiring to things above him, and to look with a measure of contempt on lowly persons and lowly pursuits. But the Christian must judge himself as to how far this worldly spirit has been mortified within him. We are cautioned against setting our minds on high things; or allowing our minds to be occupied with them; but rather, as the apostle says, " Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.' It is difficult for the best of Christians to cast off completely the influence of rank and station in this life. Nothing seems to have a more tenacious grasp on the natural mind. It dies not but with the death of the body.
The phrase, " condescend to men of low estate," is not considered by the critics a happy one. It means rather to associate with them. The idea of condescension is quite contrary both to the teaching of the Lord and His servant; for it supposes the maintenance of worldly superiority in our own hearts, because it means showing kindness to the lowly in a patronizing way. " The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve." Luke 22:25-2725And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. 26But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. 27For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth. (Luke 22:25‑27).
What a contrast to the self-exalting and disdainful spirit of the world! How blessed to see it exemplified in the human path of the high and lofty one that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is holy, and enjoined by a servant of His whose qualities of mind and heart have found few, if any, equals among men! Nowhere, perhaps, where they let out their thoughts and feelings, can one find the very opposite so painfully as among the Rabbis. Their scorn for the unlettered poor is unbounded. But indeed it is too natural to man as such. Hence we have exhortations to Christians. "He that saith he abideth in him ought himself so to walk even as he walked."*
(* Lectures on Romans, W. K. Commentary on the Romans, Hodge. Commentary on the Romans, Haldane.)
The meaning of the last clause, " Be not wise in your own conceit," is intimately connected with what has been already said. Still, every word of scripture has its own place, its meaning, its own application. Self-conceit, not infrequently, is the offspring of weakness and ignorance. The mind becomes inflated from a fancied superiority to those around us, the opinions of the lowly are disregarded, and self-confidence naturally follows. So far as this species of pride manifests itself among Christians, the prosperity of the church is destroyed, and the blessing of the individual effectually hindered. May the Lord give us the spirit of a little child, humble, docile, dependent. "Be not wise in thine own eyes," says the wise man; "fear the Lord and depart from evil...." " Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes," says the prophet, " and prudent in their own sight." Pro. 3:77Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil. (Proverbs 3:7); Isa. 5:2121Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! (Isaiah 5:21).