God’s family includes many different people who live together in harmony.
If you are interested in sponsoring a child or family, please stop by the table in the commons for Child Sponsorship. And here’s a cool thing: last week after I mentioned that we are bringing clean water and sanitation to 15,000 students at 42 schools in the Karachuyona region of Kenya, one of you wrote an $8000 check—enough to pay for an entire school! I love you! I love your generosity and your desire to help others!
An admirer once asked Leonard Bernstein, famous orchestra conductor, what was the hardest instrument to play. He replied without hesitation:
“Second fiddle. I can always get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm, or second French horn, or second flute, now that’s a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.”
Today, we continue our “Love Won Another” series by talking about living in harmony with each other. There is no harmony without a second fiddle. Why don’t we like to play second fiddle? Because of our pride—I want to be first! If we want to live in harmony, we’ll see that humility is important. You’ve got to be willing to play second fiddle sometimes.
There are 23 distinct “one another commands” in the New Testament: love one another, accept one another, forgive one another, and so on. Each of these is something that God does for us and then commands us to do for each other, and then take it into the world. God loves us, so we love one another, and then love everyone always. Here’s today’s text:
Romans 12:16 (p. 976) Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Live in harmony with one another. Is this important? Churches are destroyed by lack of harmony. Families are destroyed by lack of harmony. Friendships are destroyed by lack of harmony. How many of you would like to have more harmony in your relationships? This could change your life and your relationships!
This coming Friday, we are hosting an event for Life Services and Project Six19 here at Life Center. Dr. Steven Arterburn will be speaking and our own Cami Bradley is leading worship. I have read some of Dr. Arterburn’s books—in fact we’ve used them in our men’s mentoring program. Life Services and Project Six19 are two of our local ministry partners. Life Services provides Christ-centered support and services for women facing unplanned pregnancies. Project Six19 provides Christ-centered education and training for young people around sexual issues. Both are doing remarkable work in our community, and we’re proud to be partnering with them. Dessert at 6:30; program at 7—hope to see you there!
Here’s another example of how your generosity is making a difference in our community. Your offerings pay for this facility, the utilities, the equipment and our staff—everything needed to pull off this event on Friday. Your generosity makes things like this possible! Thanks!
Here’s the Big Idea:
The Big Idea: God’s family includes many different people who live together in harmony. Here are three things that build harmonious relationships.
1. Be like-minded. Have the same attitude.
This is what “live in harmony” literally means. In Romans 12:16, the literal translation is “be of the same mind toward one another” or “have the same attitude toward one another”. Be like minded, have the same mind or attitude, be harmonious. Peter uses a similar phrase in:
1 Peter 3:8 (p. 1049)
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.
Be like minded; some translations render this, “be harmonious, live in harmony.” The first step to living in harmony with one another is to be like-minded.
What does it mean to be like-minded? Does it mean that we agree about everything? I don’t think so. Someone has said that if two people agree about everything, one of them isn’t necessary. I think it is virtually impossible for two people to agree about everything. We are all different, and we will see things differently. Let me show you what I mean.
We have different personalities and temperaments. How many of you are extroverts? Introverts? How many of you don’t know what kind of vert you are? How many of you tend to be black and white? How many of you see shades of gray? How many of you are morning people? Night people? How many function best for an hour each day around lunch? There are literally thousands of personality or temperament variations, and no two people are exactly alike.
We have different genetic codes and physical abilities. Your DNA is unique. No one else has your exact genetic code, and the physical characteristics and abilities that go with it. I have a friend who can’t do algebra; it’s not in his brain; he’s missing the algebra gene. No amount of study will change him; it’s genetic.
We have different upbringings and backgrounds. Your family of origin has powerfully influenced the way you think and behave. When I say, “Father”, what do you think of? Your family of origin shaped your ideas about family, parenting, and even God. Many of your values were embedded by your family as you grew up.
We come from different cultures and heritages. Imagine four children. One grows up Amish in Pennsylvania, one grows up Jewish in New York, one grows up among migrant workers in central Washington, and one grows up at a country club in Carmel, California. Would they be different? Vastly! How many different cultures and heritages are there in the world? Thousands? In this room? Dozens.
We are different genders, ages, and races. Men and women are different, and we see things differently because of our gender. We are different because of age. When I was younger I was much smarter than I am now, and would gladly tell you so. Gender, age, and race—racial experiences have shaped us in profoundly different ways.
We are members of different generations. Builders, boomers, Gen X, millenials and Gen Z. Each generation bears the imprint of the times in which it grew up. Just one example: the builders lived through World War 2, the boomers through the Vietnam war, and Gen X through the Gulf conflict. How different are those three experiences and their corresponding views of patriotism?
We come from different socio-economic strata. From very rich to very poor and everything in between.
We have different educational experiences. From PhD’s at Ivy League schools, to GED’s instead of high school. Our educational experiences change the way we think and affect our perspective.
We have different spiritual experiences. I was in a store and one of the employees saw me and said, “You’re Pastor Joe, aren’t you?” I smiled and said yes expecting a pleasant conversation. Then he said, “I’ll never go to a Foursquare church. The worst experience in my life was at a Foursquare church.” And he walked away! Obviously, we have had two very different experiences. By the way, he returned a few minutes later and I asked him, “Tell me your story.” He told me about his experience and I understood why he felt like he does.
We are different from each other in all these ways and more. All of these things shape us and make us unique individuals with unique perspectives. No two snowflakes are alike; no two thumbprints are alike; so it shouldn’t surprise us that God made no two people alike. Different, different, different, different…yet God says “be like-minded.” How can we possibly do that?
If being like-minded doesn’t mean we agree about everything, what does it mean? It means that we have the mind or attitude of Christ. Paul uses the same Greek phrase that is translated “live in harmony with one another” in Romans 12:16 in two other places.
Romans 15:5–6 (p. 977)
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
May God give you the same mind or attitude toward each other. The same as what? The same as Jesus—the mind that Christ Jesus had. It’s even more clear in:
Philippians 2:1-8 (p. 1012)
1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Paul tells us to be like-minded in verse 2, but then adds, “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” If we are going to be like-minded, whose mind are we going to be like? It’s like the question asked at every wedding: “The two become one. The question is: which one?” If we are going to be like-minded, whose mind are we going to be like? The answer is: like Jesus. That is how to be like-minded. Have the same attitude as Jesus. And Paul describes that attitude:
Even though Jesus was God, He emptied Himself and became a man.
He humbled Himself and became obedient, even to the point of death on a cross.
This is why Paul wrote in v. 3-4:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility value others above yourselves (v. 3)
Look not to your own interests but to the interests of the others. (v. 4)
That’s the mind of Jesus—the attitude of Jesus. Empty yourself, humble yourself, put others before yourself. Remember, Jesus is only asking you to do for others what He has already done for you. You can live in harmony with others by having the same attitude as Jesus. He’s already done it for you.
Here is the first step to living in harmony with one another: be like-minded; be like Jesus. Have the same attitude Jesus had. If we all do that, we will live in harmony.
When Charles V stepped down as the Holy Roman Emperor some 400 years ago, he spent much of his time at his palace in Spain. He had six clocks there, and no matter how he tried, he could never get them to chime together on the hour.
In his memoirs, he wrote, “How is it possible for six different clocks to chime all at the same time? How is it even more impossible for the six nations of the Holy Roman Empire to live in harmony? It can’t be done. It’s impossible, even if they call themselves Christians.”
Today, we know it’s possible to have clocks in perfect harmony, when all are powered by the same source and all are calibrated to the same standard–Greenwich Mean Time.
In the same way, we can live in harmony when we’re all powered by the same source—the Holy Spirit—and calibrated to one standard—Jesus.
Unfortunately, many of us are calibrated to a different standard. Instead of Jesus, we’re calibrated to our own standards. Instead of the mind of Jesus, I have the mind of Joe!
A number of years ago, our leadership team went to conflict resolution seminar in Seattle. In the morning, our instructor taught us about self-affirmation and had us write and repeat a number of self-affirming statements, like
I am good.
I am competent.
I am gifted.
I am kind and loving.
I can handle anger.
I can deal with conflict.
At lunch, I told the others that I didn’t need to go to the afternoon session; I’d already learned how to handle conflict during the self-affirmation session. “How’s that?” they asked. Simple. My self-affirmation is “I am right.” It settles all conflict!
Actually, “I am right” is the source of most conflict. Conflict is settled when we admit that Jesus is right. I’m not; so I have to be constantly recalibrated to Jesus. I need the mind of Christ, the attitude of Jesus that serves and sacrifices for others. When Jesus died on the cross, He was right, and we were wrong, but He died for us. That’s the mind of Christ. Be like-minded—have the same attitude.
2. Be sympathetic. Have the same feelings.
Sympathy has gotten a bad rap! Lots of negative press. “I don’t need your sympathy.” But sympathy is good. It shows that you understand what another person is going through, and you feel for them. The Bible says that it’s one of the ways we live in harmony with each other.
Look at Romans 12:15 (p. 976), the verse before our text. It says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Then, “live in harmony with one another.” Feel what the other person is feeling.
That can be tough. Have you ever been really up, really happy, and then tried to help someone who was really down? “Mourn with those who mourn.” But you’re thinking, “Hey cheer up! Life’s great!”
Or even tougher, have you ever been down and struggling, and then someone around you gets promoted, gets a raise, or buys a new car when you can’t afford to keep your old one running? “Rejoice with those who rejoice.” I think that’s often the taller order. It cuts against the grain of our selfishness and jealousy and envy. “Why not me, Lord?” Have you ever seen someone being blessed and asked that question? I have, and I think the Lord answered, “When you can rejoice for others, then it’s your turn.”
Look again at 1 Peter 3:8 (p. 1049)
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Be sympathetic. The Greek word there is sumpathes; we get “sympathy” from it; it means “to feel with, to identify with the feelings of others.” Same as Romans 12:15, “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Have the same feelings. That’s sympathy.
In 1975 then President Gerald Ford took his famous tumble coming out of Air Force One in Austria. Some years later, Ford visited Northeastern State University in Oklahoma. He had breakfast with some student leaders. As one of the students stepped out of an elevator, her heel caught on the carpet and she crashed into Ford. She repeatedly apologized as he helped her to her feet, but the former president smiled sympathetically. “Don’t worry, young lady,” he said. “I understand perfectly.”
I know how you feel. I understand and can sympathize.
Did you know that God understands when you stumble?
Hebrews 4:15-16 (p. 1035)
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
The word “empathize” translates that same Greek work, sumpatheo—to identify with the feelings of others. Jesus has been tempted and He understands; He knows what you’re feeling. That’s why you can approach Him with confidence. He understands. He’s only asking you to do for others what He has already done for you.
Sometimes the best gift we can give others is sympathy, to share their feelings, to weep with them or laugh with them. It’s the gift of understanding, and sometimes it’s all the help we need, just knowing that someone else understands and shares our feelings.
I was meeting with a guy who was angry. Before our meeting, I prayed. “Lord, what should I do? This guy is so upset that he won’t hear a word I say. What can I do?” I knew instantly what to do. Listen. Listen and try to understand how he was feeling, why he was so upset. Don’t say anything, don’t give any advice, don’t deliver one of my patented pep talks, or give any of my sage Biblical advice. Just listen, and sympathize.
I did that, and you could feel the anger begin to drain out of him. The next day, we talked again, and I was able to give advice, and he was ready to hear it then. What he needed first was comfort, sympathy, an ally, someone who understood how he felt.
If I had tried to counsel him the first day, it would have only made him angrier, and yet that is what I usually do. I try to give advice before I give sympathy; I try to give correction before I give compassion; I try to give answers before I have understanding.
We are reading Job right now in our Bible reading plan. Job is suffering, and 3 friends come to comfort him. They spout the religious cliches of their day, which doesn’t help Job, but makes it worse. Finally, Job responds:
Job 13:5 (p. 441) If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom.
Sometimes the wisest thing to say is nothing. Just be silent and sympathetic.
Sympathy and understanding are great gifts and go a long way to living in harmony with one another.
When her little girl was late getting home from school, her mother began to scold her:
“Why are you so late?”
“I had to help another girl. She was in trouble.”
“What did you do to help her?”
“Oh, I sat down and helped her cry.”
From the mouth of babes. Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn. Be sympathetic.
3. Be humble. Have the same regard.
Look again at our texts.
Romans 12:16 (p. 976) Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
1 Peter 3:8 (p. 1049) Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.
Both of them remind us to be humble, not proud, conceited, or snobbish. Paul tells us to be willing to associate with people of low position. It’s one of the ways we live in harmony with each other. You can’t live in harmony with others if you think you’re better than they are. Listen again to Philippians 2:3-4 (p. 1012). Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Value others above yourself. Don’t look down on anyone. Move toward the other—those who are different than you.
Many years ago, some of our neighbors, who have long since left town, began to come to our church. They were a delightful couple, who really loved the Lord, and had been leaders in other churches and ministries. They enjoyed our worship and my talks, but after a few months they said they were going to a different church. When I asked why, they told me that they really hadn’t made friends at Life Center, and didn’t think they would because the people here weren’t their kind of people. They were used to friends from a higher socio-economic status. At first, I was terribly offended. “What do you mean, we’re not your kind of people? We’re Christians, aren’t you?”
When I cooled down, I understood what they meant. I get it. All of us enjoy being with “our own kind”, whatever we perceive them to be. We all like to hang out with people like us.
But can you see the danger here too? It’s a fine line between having friends like you, and becoming snobbish. That’s why Paul wrote, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.”
It’s very easy to cross the line and become separatists, divided into cliques of people just like us. Are there people here at Life Center that aren’t your type? Good! I hope so! And what do you do when you see them? Do you avoid them? Do you hope you won’t have to talk to them because they make you uncomfortable? Then it’s time to humble yourself, and ask God to help you regard each person as valuable and worthy of your time and attention. They are valuable to Jesus! So move toward the other!
John came to us from another church. His first week here, he filled out a tear-off tab. In the space where it asks, “who invited you,” he put the name of a pastor of another church. He went to that church once, and they told him he would fit in better at Life Center.
John was in a wheelchair. Because of an accident when he was 15, John was brain-damaged, and physically handicapped. John was loud, obnoxious, rude, crude and lacked social sense. He passed gas loudly in church, and looked around to see if anyone noticed. He spoke out of turn in church so often that he gained the nickname “Not now John” because that’s why I always said to him.
John would call the church office every day and ask when we were going to find a wife for him. John called me at home, sometimes several times a day. Once he called me at 11 at night and asked me what I thought of Jimmy Swaggert. “I don’t think at 11 PM, John. Don’t call me this late again.”
John told bad jokes. One Sunday, a wonderful couple named John and Yolie Parsons came to Life Center for the first time. They stopped downstairs to get coffee, and John asked them for a ride home. Flustered, they agreed—how do you say no to a handicapped person who needs a ride? John was out of his wheelchair, using braces. He leaned against the crash bar on the front door, and when it swung open, John crashed to the ground. Horrified, John and Yolie rushed to see if he was ok—remember, this was their first time here. John looked at them and said, “Do you know why Mexicans don’t make good firemen? Because they can’t tell Jose from hose B.” John and Yolie are Hispanic. Welcome to Life Center.
Let me ask you: does John sound like your kind of guy? The kind of person you want to hang out with? Can you see why the pastor of the other church invited him to Life Center? We were the first church in John’s life that welcomed and loved him. John spent almost ten years here being loved by people who were very different from him, but determined to treat him like Jesus would.
Be humble. Have the same regard for everyone. Don’t be proud, conceited or snobbish. Listen, do you think we were God’s kind of people? Not exactly, but He left heaven to find us, hang out with us, and make us His kind of people.
Am I saying you can’t hang out with your friends, with people like you? Of course not! Nothing wrong with that. Just don’t let that become snobbish. We need to love each other. We need to have high regard for each other. We need to overcome our fears and discomfort and move toward the other.
Let’s stand and take hands. Look at the person whose hand you are holding. Are they your kind of person? Yes.