“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.”- Romans 12:16-17
Envy comes naturally to fallen humanity. Early on in the Bible, we see this clearly. Cain’s jealousy over Abel’s approval before God motivated him to commit the very first murder (Gen. 4:1-8). Yet even when it does not lead to murder, jealousy exercises a powerful influence throughout society and even in the church itself. We dare not tolerate envy in our hearts, for it destroys the love that desires for others the good we want for ourselves. Instead, we must rejoice when others rejoice and weep when others weep (Rom. 12:15).
We will find this to be an impossible task as long as we are of different minds in the church. Paul’s admonition for us to “live in harmony with one another” in Romans 12:16a calls all believers to have the same mindset regarding what the Lord requires of His people in terms of Christian conduct. This is not a call for us to have identical opinions on every matter, but for us to strive for unity in the truth amid the diversity of personalities and gifts in the church. We are to seek to get along, to find unity in the truth of the gospel, not going to war over every small matter that may divide us. In sum, as Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in his commentary Romans, God “wants us to be people who do not love a fight.”
A prideful spirit that is unwilling to admit when one is wrong and that makes one’s own knowledge and wisdom the inflexible standard for what is wise will impede such unity every time. How can we grow in unity and harmony if we believe that we cannot be corrected or that it is beneath us to associate ourselves with those people whom the world considers lowly and insignificant? Thus, we find Paul condemning pride in verse 16b so that we might cast aside all stumbling blocks to unity in the body of Christ.
The Apostle shifts focus in verse 17 to explain what genuine love looks like in the context of the Christian’s relationship to non-Christian society. After telling us not to repay evil for evil, which reminds us that our first instinct should be to bless others, not to curse them, Paul exhorts us to “give thought to what is honorable in the sight of all.” We dare not base our ethics on the standards of nonbelievers, but we must remember that because they bear God’s image, they never suppress entirely the consciences they possess (Rom. 1:18-32; 2:14-16). Non-Christians do not have transformed hearts and cannot do what is fully pleasing to God. But they can—albeit imperfectly—recognize goodness, and we bring reproach on the name of Christ when we do not live up to the good that the pagans rightly discern.
The world does not always understand what is good, and sometimes it even calls good evil and evil good. Still, unbelievers often recognize what is right and true, and they definitely know when we do not practice what we preach. We cannot control the world’s opinion of us, but we can control how consistently we live up to what we say. So that we do not bring reproach on the name of Christ, may we all “practice what we preach” and be quick to repent when we do not.
Passages for Further Study
2 Chronicles 9:1–10
1 Corinthians 5
1 Timothy 3:7