Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. (Romans 12:16)
Live in harmony with one another.
There could hardly be a simpler verse of Scripture. Harmony, as all the musicians know, is a pleasing arrangement of different parts. You get harmony when different notes are joined together in such a way that one note enriches and complements another.
Harmony is not unison. You don’t get harmony by everyone playing the same note. You get harmony when different notes are brought together. So harmony does not mean that everyone thinks the same, does the same, or is the same. Harmony is not unison.
Harmony is not discord either. Discord is when notes are brought together in such a way that one note diminishes and distorts another.
“Live in harmony with one another” means: Live in such a way that you enrich and complement each other. Let your being joined mean that, together, you are more than any of you would be on your own. There is a display of beauty that comes from taking what is distinct and different and making it one.
This is at the heart of marriage: God makes the man and the woman. The two are different, but in marriage they become one. There is a beautiful complementarity in which, like two notes in a chord, they are more together than either of them could be on their own.
You see this in the nature of God himself. There is one God and he is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is one in nature, one in purpose, and one in love. There is a beauty, a glory, a peace, a joy, a blessing, a harmony that we see in God and that flows from God.
God speaks about the same thing here to his church: “Live in harmony with one another.” Who is the “one another?” We are to “live in harmony with” Christian brothers and sisters, redeemed by Christ, and brought together in the family of God. Here is a distinct calling that we have as Christians: “Live in harmony.”
Is there anything that is more desperately needed in our world and in our country today than this? Our beloved country is tired of polarization, of division, of conflict over race and religion and money and on and on. The world desperately needs to see something different, and God says, “This is your calling. Let it be seen in my church!”
Now here is the question: What stops us? The command of God is crystal clear. So what holds us back? Why do we find it so hard to do this?
There is one answer and it is right here in this verse: PRIDE. “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight” (Rom. 12:16).
Pride Has Two Expressions
#1 – Arrogance: Do not be haughty
To be haughty is to think yourself better than others, to look down on other people because you feel superior in your intellect, in your lifestyle, or in your achievements.
It is easy for us to get the idea that pride is not a big deal. What’s wrong with a little bit of swagger? Proverbs 6:16 says, “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him,” and the first thing mentioned in this list is “haughty eyes” (6:17).
Remember, pride is the original sin. It is the root of every other sin. So, do not be haughty. I want to apply this particularly in regard to the way we speak to each other when we disagree.
There is a fascinating letter by John Newton, who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace, to a friend who was about to engage in some public controversy. He was going to write a response to the view of someone else with whom he strongly disagreed. Newton wrote to warn his friend about the spiritual dangers of engaging in public controversy.
In those days very few people had a platform and, therefore, an opportunity to engage in public controversy. But social media has changed all that. Now we all have the opportunity to post comments expressing our opinions, either agreeing or disagreeing with others.
Social media has become a platform on which not only our opinions, but all too often our pride is exposed. Even though our opinions are hidden behind a screenname, we must remember that nothing is hidden from the eyes of God. Newton’s words are worth bearing in mind before you post or say anything in public.
As you are likely to be engaged in controversy, and your love of truth is joined to a natural warmth of temper, my friendship makes me solicitous on your behalf. You are of the strongest side; for truth is great and must prevail… but I would have you more than a conqueror, and to triumph not only over your adversary, but over yourself.
Consider your opponent:
I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such disposition will have a good influence on every page you write.
If you count him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you [remember] the Lord loves him… therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly.
But if you look upon him as an unconverted person… he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger. Alas! ‘He knows not what he does.’
We find very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it. Either they grow in a sense of their own importance, or imbibe an angry contentious spirit, or they withdraw their attention from those things which are the food of a life of faith, and spend their time and strength upon matters which are at most but of secondary value…
What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of His presence is made? 
God lives with the humble, “I dwell [in heaven and] with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit” (Isa. 57:15). God hates pride and he will destroy it.
- Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall (Prov. 16:18).
- God opposes the proud (1 Pet. 5.5).
- The haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day (Isa. 2:17).
Do not be haughty!
#2 – Independence: Never be wise in your own sight
I thought carefully about using the word ‘independence’ because by instinct many of us want to defend it. We don’t want to depend on others. We want to stand on our own two feet, and
that sense of individual responsibility is surely right and honoring to God.
But listen to what the Scripture is saying to us here: “Never be wise in your own sight!” The man (or woman) who is wise in his own sight feels he has all that he needs in himself. He doesn’t need to listen to others. The way he sees it, he already has all the wisdom he needs.
There are two manifestations of pride that keep us from living in harmony: One is to think that you are better than others. The other is to think that you don’t need others.
Paul speaks about this in his first letter to the church in Corinth. The church is the body of Christ and the body has different parts: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Cor. 12:21). The very nature of the body is that God has granted interdependence to all of the parts.
The proud person is the one who thinks in his or her heart, I have all that I need in myself. I make my own decisions. I run my own life. I am a Christian, so why do I need to be a member of the church? That’s the eye saying to the hand, “I don’t need you.”
Pride in Relation to Scripture
The words “wise in your own sight,” relate especially to the life of the mind. Always remember that there is an intellectual dimension to repentance as well as a moral one: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts” (Isa. 55:7).
Repentance involves a change in our way and a change in our thoughts. There are ways of thinking that we must abandon. One of them is the self-sufficiency that says, “I have all the wisdom I need in myself.”
I want to give you the testimony of a man who for many years was wise in his own sight, and then experienced a remarkable change of heart. His name is Thomas Oden, and his book called A Change of Heart is the very honest confession of a brilliant man, and a widely influential Christian, who has published over 50 books and articles.
I am telling his story because I want you to see the effects of being wise in your own eyes. It shapes your whole approach to Scripture. If you are wise in your own sight, you will evaluate the Bible in the light of your own wisdom. You will take what fits with what you already believe and you will discard everything else. Instead of listening to the voice of God, you are actually listening to an echo of your own voice.
Thomas Oden was born in 1931, and had great influence during the massive cultural changes that took place in the 1960s. He was raised in rural Oklahoma, and grew up in a Methodist church, and from early on he professed Christian faith.
Oden had a passion for social justice, and describing his student years he says, “I was a Marxist utopian dreamer.”  Oden says, “I began to see the vision of a world where all weapons would be banned, opening the way for a world government that would seek social justice and where peace and sanity would prevail” 
He describes his relationship with Scripture as “a filtering process which permitted those sources to speak to me only insofar as they could meet my conditions, my worldview and my assumptions as a modern person.” 
In regard to his prayer life, Oden says, “In college I lost the capacity for heartfelt, extemporized prayer.”  Moving beyond his college years he says, “I went into the ministry to use the church to elicit political change.” 
Oden then speaks about how he came under the influence of Saul Alinsky and (what he describes as) “the Chicago school of push and shove politics.” He says, Alinsky “taught me that radicals precipitate the social crises by strategic deception, surprise attacks on vulnerabilities, direct action and rhetorical cover-up” 
Oden describes himself in these early years as a “movement theologian… continuously shifting from movement to movement toward whatever new idea I thought might seem to be an acceptable modernization of Christianity.” 
Oden says, “I was floating on the wave of secularization… The trick was to learn to sound Christian while undermining traditional Christianity.” 
“For me,” says Oden, “the theos in theology had become little more than a question mark. I could confidently discuss philosophy, psychology and social change, but God made me uneasy.” 
“Resurrection and atonement were words I choked on… The gospel was not about an event of divine salvation but about a human psychological experience of trust and freedom from anxiety, guilt and boredom.” 
“The resurrection was not about something that actually happened but ‘a community’s memory of an unexplained event.’” Though he adds, “I could not explain to myself or others how Christianity could be built on an event that never happened.” 
Then he makes this confession: “I did not examine my own motives. The biblical words for this are egocentricity, arrogance and moral blindness. I confess now that I became entrapped with the desire for upward mobility in an academic environment.” 
Oden continues, “My past visions of vast plans for social change had irreparably harmed many innocents, especially the unborn. The sexually permissive lifestyle, which I had not joined but failed to critique, led to a generation of fatherless children. The political policies I had promoted were intended to increase justice by political means but ended in diminishing personal responsibility and freedom. Many of the seemingly humane psychological therapies I had supported may have made people more miserable, less able to choose wisely or to seek the virtues required for happiness.” 
Oden says, “I had to learn to repent, to see my own arrogance and to acknowledge my limitations.”  The turn in Thomas Oden’s life began in 1970 when at the age of 39 he was appointed a tenured professor at Drew University in New Jersey. There he met a Jewish scholar by the name of Will Herberg, and they became close friends.
They must have been good friends, because Herberg seems to have spoken to Oden with unusual directness: “My irascible, endearing Jewish friend leaned into my face and told me that I was densely ignorant of Christianity and he simply couldn’t permit me to throw my life away… ‘If you are ever going to become a credible theologian instead of a know-it-all pundit, you had better restart your life on firmer ground. You are not a theologian except in name only, even if you are paid to be one.’” 
So Thomas Oden gave himself to reading the church fathers, as Herberg suggested, and what he discovered was that instead of trying to say something new, their great aim was to be faithful to Scripture.
Here is a man with a brilliant mind. He feels that he has what he needs in himself so he doesn’t pray. And when he reads the Bible, he accepts only what fits with his view of the world, what he already thinks, and he disregards the rest. He filters everything else out.
He is a professor of theology, but God is little more than a question mark to him. The resurrection is a community memory of an unexplained event. ‘Atonement’ is a word that he chokes on. And everything he writes is cutting edge, new, innovative, with his own initials stamped on it, because that is the way to upward mobility in an academic environment. Then he discovers that the church fathers were not into being new and innovative and cutting edge. They were committed to being faithful!
Oden’s “change of heart” was sealed in 1971 when he had a dream in which he was walking in a nearby cemetery in New Haven when he stumbled upon his own tombstone, and he saw these words written on it: “He made no new contribution to theology.”  Oden says that he woke up from the dream refreshed and relieved. In other words, “That’s who I want to be. I want to be like the Church Fathers. I want to be faithful to the Scriptures.”
After that he says, “I set about trying scrupulously to abstain from creating any new doctrine. It was the best decision I had made… It took no small effort to resist the constant temptation to novelty.” By the way, don’t run out and buy the books that are all about novelty. Buy the books that you know will be faithful to Scripture.
Oden says, “Nothing at Yale was drummed into my head more steadily than the aspiration that the theology I would seek would be my own and my uniqueness would imprint it. By… epiphany of 1972, I was pledged to present nothing new or original in basic Christian teaching that would have my initials stamped on it as if it were mine. I have honored that pledge and it has been deeply gratifying to me.” 
In summary of his life, he says this: “If my first forty years were spent hungering for meaning in life, the last forty have been spent in being fed.”  In other words, Oden says, “I spent the first 40 years trying to find the meaning of life and I never found it. Then I came back to the Bible, and I’ve been nourished by it ever since.”
The promise of Jesus
If you are wise in your own eyes, God will be little more than a question mark to you. You won’t feel much desire to pray. If you study the Bible, you will filter what God says through what you already believe. That is what the Pharisees did.
Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40).
But the promise of Jesus is that if you will open the Scriptures with a humble heart, God will teach you. Jesus said, “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (John 6:45).
If you will open the Scriptures with a humble heart, you will hear God’s voice, and you will learn from him. Jesus says that the outcome of this is that the person taught by God “comes to me.” In other words, the result of hearing God’s voice and learning from him is that the person comes to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Never be wise in your own sight!
Learn to Hate This Sin
Thoughtful Christians find themselves wondering what God is doing in this troubling season of our national life. I don’t have the answer to that question.
But one thing is surely clear: When pride, haughty eyes, and being wise in your own sight are being paraded before us day after day to the point where vast numbers of people are saying, “Switch off the television. I can’t watch anymore,” perhaps we are at a moment when we can learn to hate one of our own worst sins.
Perhaps God will bring us to a place of saying today, “Lord, deliver me from having haughty eyes. May I never look down on another person. Lord, may I never be wise in my own sight.
Make me humble, so that I’m in a position to be taught by you and by others.”
The gospel cuts pride to shreds, because it casts all of us on the mercy of God. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24). What do you have that you did not receive? Every good gift comes from above.
The gospel moved the apostle Paul from seeing himself as the cream of the crop to the chief of sinners – that’s a big change! He went from saying, “As to righteousness under the law, [I was] blameless” (Phil. 3:6), to “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15). Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded (Rom. 3:27).
Why? Because, in the gospel, God destroys pretentions and he abolishes distinctions. There is one way to peace with God for those who are far and for those who are near, one hope for those who are rich and poor, one sacrifice for the sins of Jews and Gentiles, and one Savior whose arms are open to all who will humble themselves in faith and repentance and come to him.
When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride. 
“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).
So do not be overtaken by the pride and arrogance around you: Do not be haughty! Never be wise in your own eyes. Do not be overcome by evil. Overcome evil with good. So that, in the light of God’s mercy, we live in harmony with one another.
 John Newton, The Works of John Newton, Vol. 1, p. 186-187, Banner of Truth Trust, 2015.
 Thomas Oden, A Change of Heart, p. 42, IVP Academic, 2014.
 Ibid., p. 47.
 Ibid., p. 147.
 Ibid., p. 54.
 Ibid., p. 50.
 Ibid., p. 54.
 Ibid., p. 80.
 Ibid., p. 80, 81.
 Ibid., p. 77.
 Ibid., p. 86.
 Ibid., p. 85.
 Ibid., p. 56.
 Ibid., p. 56.
 Ibid., p. 145.
 Ibid., p. 136, 137.
 Ibid., p. 143.
 Ibid., p. 144, 146.
 Ibid., p. 57.
 Isaac Watts, from the hymn: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, 1707.
© Colin S. Smith
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