Romans 12:3

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Thursday, 7 October 2013

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. Romans 12:3

In this verse, Paul makes a word play for us from the idea of “thought.” Four times in the Greek the word phronein is used in one form or another. Each is given to have us stop and mentally consider (to think) on the thought he wants us to think about…

“For” is given to build on verses 1 & 2. He spoke of our responsibility to the Lord to be as “living sacrifices” and to not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed. If we are living sacrifices and are being transformed to correspond to the will of God, then what he will now write should follow naturally. But rather than immediately stating what this is, he interjects a point of humility concerning himself.

“For I say, through the grace given to me…” He is speaking about his apostleship (see Romans 1:5) which is preeminently one directed to the Gentiles. Despite this exalted position, it was given “through grace.” In other words, Paul has excluded boasting from his position and therefore, when he pens his coming words, boasting or feelings of superiority should be excluded. In the end, if our position came by grace, then the playing field is level. Having shown this up front, he continues with “…to everyone who is among you.”

Each recipient of his letter, which includes even those of us today who peruse the words of Romans, is “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.” Whatever our position is, we shouldn’t allow it to go to our heads. Pastors are often placed on high pedestals. This only increases as the size of the church increases – swollen heads overshadow large pulpits. Eventually, they are treated, and they accept the treatment, as superstars. Elders in churches will often have their heads burst forth with thoughts of control and power. They didn’t have to do the hard work in seminary, but they still get control of the flock.

Those who have a strong grasp of the word, taking it in context and understanding the nuances of the original languages, can lord this over others, acting as if they hold the keys to deep insights and wisdom, doling it out with a teaspoon. Musicians are often exalted (and act) as if they are greats of the faith, simply because they sing songs with deep-seated theological lyrics. And the list could go on…

But Paul warns against this and we should heed the warning, even taking time to memorize these twelve words, “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.” As soon as pride steps in, the devil gains a foothold into the life of the believer. If the Creator can come in human flesh, walk among us, and wash the dirty feet of His apostles – the highest designation in the Church Age, then we have nothing to consider ourselves more worthy than any other person in this body. After all, Paul has already shown that apostleship is given by grace. He has preempted boasting at any other level.

Instead, Paul says that we are to “think soberly” using the term sōphronein. This word is used to indicate being sober-minded or to think clearly while exercising self control. It is formed by two words which translate as “safe” and “what regulates life.” The second word is the root of our word “diaphragm.” Helps Word Studies gives the example of an opera singer who controls the length or quality of his tones by the diaphragm. This then controls the ability to breathe and to moderate heartbeat. This in turn regulates or “brings safety” to the body, keeping it properly controlled. This physical example translates well into what Paul asks of us in our mental state.

And the reason we are to “think soberly” is because it all comes back to God in the end. It is He who “has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” Even if faith is an exercise of the free-will, which it is, that free-will was granted by God, and the opportunity to exercise it was also granted by God. To understand this, think of two people with exactly the same free-will and looking to exercise it in exactly the same way –

Seeker 1 is in his store in Sarasota, Florida when two guys come in and talk to him about the Bible, about Jesus, and about salvation. He accepts the premise, exercises his faith, and receives Christ.

Seeker 2 is in Wang-Chung China. He knows there’s a God and wants to know Him. Mission budgets were cut for Wang-Chung though and nobody is sent to evangelize the lost there. He never hears the saving message of Christ.

Did Seeker 1 deserve his opportunity to hear the word? Did Seeker 2 somehow not measure up? No. By grace alone did Seeker 1 hear and receive the message.

Now apply this to any state of any believer. One person may have the financial ability to go to seminary and another may lack it. The first becomes a pastor, the second cleans church bathrooms. The first cannot presume he is better than the second. He merely was granted a grace the first lacked. However, the toilet-cleaner may have a much deeper and more pleasing-to-God faith than the pastor. In the end, none should think more highly of himself than he ought to think. Rather, he needs to consider his position soberly, whatever it is, and understand that it was granted by God alone.

Life application: The universe doesn’t center around any of us. Be humble and exalt the Lord.

O God, just when life seems to be great and everything is going well, something comes along which reminds me that I am completely dependent on You. I get thinking I have it all under control and You remind me it is otherwise. Every beat of my heart is at Your will and every victory or trial is granted by You. Thank You for the victories, help me through the trials, and never let me forget that You have it all under control. Amen.

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