Never Be Wise

in your own sight.

Romans 12:16 (ESV)

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

Having just challenged us to throw off our competitiveness and turn our attention outward, Paul now commends us to practice humility.

The Greek grammar here is important. The second sentence can be translated to say, “Do not be haughty, but give yourselves to humble tasks.” Whether that sentence includes tasks, or is just about attitude, it’s the opposite of being haughty. Don’t avoid things you think are beneath you.

This was taught brilliantly in the TV show “Dirty Jobs.” In it, Mike Rowe showed how all kinds of people do the jobs that are essential to making our society work. It was a real eye-opener.

When I was growing up near Washington, DC, I had my eyes opened by an amusing coincidence. Every time we had a blizzard, lots of closings would be announced on the radio—schools, government, etc. The announcements always included the words, “Only essential personnel need to report to work.”

What struck me is that the “essential personnel” are the lowest paid people. Their bosses could be out for a week and no one would notice. But let the people who maintain and run things miss a single day and everything grinds to a halt.

Whether the Greek means we should associate with these people, or actually do these jobs, it’s clear that it’s wrong to think we’re above them. They’re the most important people.

Which bring us to the last sentence, which actually says in the Greek, “Do not become wise in your own sight.” This is the essence of real humility.

As mere mortals, we should recognize that we don’t really understand anything.

Many professors love to talk about how human understanding in their field is woefully inadequate. This is especially true in physics.

We don’t know what time is, or why it can be stretched. We don’t know what matter is (and we keep building ever more powerful atom-smashers to try to figure out what in tarnation is actually going on). We don’t know what energy is. We don’t understand how gravity works. The Holy Grail in physics right now is to find a single model that includes gravity as well as the other forces.

For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known. – 1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV)

When we get to heaven, we’re sure to laugh at all the things we thought we understood.

For now, we should at least act like we believe 1 Corinthians 13:12.

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Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.