Are you like me? What comes to your mind when you read, “Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble.” My first thought is that Christians are humble, and I associate with Christians, so I must be associating with the humble. But Paul, in context, is describing a paradigm to embrace, a warning, and a call to action. There must be more to this verse than meets the eye. “Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. ” (Rom 12:6)
Let’s see who the humble are. We can get more insight into who the humble are by looking at how the New Testament writers use the word for “the humble” (tapeinos). The word is used 8 times, and I will comment on the references and then discuss the paradigm, the warning, and the call to action from Paul.
Matthew used the word in a description that Jesus gave about Himself. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly (tapeinos) in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt 11:29) Jesus described Himself as lowly. I certainly want to associate with Jesus. What is Jesus really saying? For one thing, Jesus has informed His audience that He is under a yoke. Are you thinking to yourself what kind of yoke is Jesus under? If I don’t know what His yoke is, how can I put it on? I would like to suggest that His yoke was to do the Father’s will. “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.” (Jn 5:30) I can put on His yoke of doing the Father’s will. I can only yield to the Father’s will if I am gentle and lowly, which is why we need to learn of Him. What does wearing an instrument of work lead you and me to find? Rest. We cannot find rest in doing our own will. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus taught us and demonstrated submission to God’s will. Jesus went on to say that His yoke was easy and His burden light. Doing God’s will should be easy and light when contrasted with doing our own will, which is hard and oppressive. It is a delight to do Your will, O God.
Luke used the word tapeinos in the following verse, “He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly.” (Lk 1:52) This verse was a quote from lovely Magnificant of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Here, the lowly are contrasted with the mighty who sit on thrones. You probably do not associate with any kings. God does exalt the lowly. We will explore this truth in James and First Peter.
I will be discussing this verse a little later. “Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.” (Rom 12:16)
Paul used the word to refer to those who need comfort from God. “Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus…” (2Cor 7:6) Paul and his companions were downcast and were comforted by God by the arrival of Titus. We learn from Paul that the lowly are those who need comfort.
Paul used the word to describe himself when he was present with the Corinthians. “Now I, Paul, myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—who in presence am lowly among you, but being absent am bold toward you.” (2Cor 10:1) His position of lowliness seems to echo his exhortation to the Philippians. “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” (Phil 2:3) In fact, the word for lowliness (tapeinophrosyne) is similar to the word I am discussing. You and I need to have a low opinion of ourselves that allows us to value others above us. Can you count yourself in this group of Christians who value others above themselves?
James contrasted two classes of people in his letter to the dispersed Christians. “Let the lowly (tapeinos) brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation (tapeinosis – the verb tense), because as a flower of the field he will pass away. (Jm 1:9-10) The lowly Christian should rejoice in this brief life on earth because he or she will be exalted in eternity, for the blessings in heaven are far superior to the lowliness on earth. The rich person should rejoice in this life because he or she can thank God for the riches but can humble themselves in this life by trusting in the living God not riches, being rich in good works, giving to this in need and sharing with others. Paul addresses this attitude of the rich in the following verses, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to share…” (1Tim 6:17-18) The lowly are those who trust in God, value others above themselves, and truly care about others.
James gave us another glimpse into who is lowly. “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (Jm 4:6) He quoted Prov 3:34. We learn from this verse that God opposes proud people. Only the humble receive grace. Anytime that I say no to God and behave in a manner that is not loving, I am being proud. When I am humble, doing God’s will not my own, and valuing others above myself, I will receive grace from God. You can see why we need to associate with the humble. It keeps us in a position to receive grace and it prevents us from becoming proud.
Peter quotes the same verse from Proverbs. “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1Pet 5:5) Peter adds that humble people are submissive to each other. The body of Christ is an organic whole, which cannot function properly in dominance or pride. Grace will be given to those who are humble, and those who are humble will be submissive to others in the Body of Christ.
I just want to revisit the paradigm to embrace, a warning, and a call to action in the verse, “Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble.” The paradigm: Jesus is the epitome of a lowly or humble person. If we want to fellowship with Jesus, we need to be humble. We live humbly when we do God’s will, not our own. If we want God to comfort us, we need to be humble, because God comforts the lowly. If we want to be Christ-like, we need to value others more than ourselves. If we are rich in this life, we need to have a humble mind, trusting in the living God, not riches. If we want grace, we need to be humble not proud and we need to be submissive to others.
The warning: Do not think on high things or ways that elevate you above others. Don’t be proud. This attitude will prevent us from associating with the humble. Paul has often cautioned us not to be proud (Rom 12:3; 1Cor 8:1; 13:4; 1Tim 3:6; ). As long as we are in our bodies, we can become proud.
The call to action: Associate with the humble. The word associate means to be carried away with. We should be able to be carried away with the humble. If you consider yourself humble, then you will be comfortable with the humble. I think this also means that when we see others who have a lower status than us, we need to spend time with them. We may not realize that the less honorable parts should receive the greater honor. “And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it…” (1Cor 12:23-24)
Valuing God above all else in life keeps us humble, and it allows us to be carried away with those who are humble. In fact, it in when we are humble that God exalts us. “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your worry upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1Pet 5:6-7)