Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Byron Center Protestant Reformed Church in Byron Center, Michigan.
“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.
Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.”
One who is saved by grace alone is to live in a way that harmonizes with this salvation. The doctrines of sovereign, particular grace imply and require a way of living that is “not conformed to this world,” but “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (2) in every aspect of one’s earthly sojourn.
The gifts with which God has equipped us are to be used in a sober and gracious way (3-8). Saved by grace alone, we are to be constantly “serving the Lord” (11). Concerning tribulation, we are to endure it with patience (12). Being transformed, we are to “bless them which persecute” us, and not curse them (14). And now in our text we are shown that grace-alone-salvation requires an identifying of ourselves with the other members of the body of Christ.
The ability to rejoice with them that rejoice and to weep with them that weep arises from the activity of identifying with others. It implies that we understand their situation and circumstances, judge their experience to be legitimate and real, and feel for them in their joy or hurt. It is possible to see the circumstances that surround others and judge them rashly, concluding that they ought not be happy, or have no reason to hurt as badly as they do. We can easily judge that they deserve some hurt, or that they are exaggerating their joy or pain. Instead of identifying with them, we pass judgment from our perspective, detaching ourselves from them and condemning them for their joy or sorrow.
It is our fallen human nature that makes us inclined, when we see others rejoicing in some good that has come to them, to speak evil and to live in “malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another” (Tit. 3:3). It is our sinful nature when we see others struggling in some difficult trial to be “glad at calamities” (Prov. 17:5).
It is generally easier to weep with them that weep, than it is to rejoice with them that rejoice. When someone weeps, it is because they are humbled by some difficulty. And when someone rejoices, it is because they are exalted by something they judge to be a success. Selfish pride looks at others from our perspective—how we compare to them—and we always want to be better than they. So when we see others exalted by success, then there is great likelihood of jealousy and envy. We instinctively see the success of others as our loss, or as making us less.
But God shows that salvation by grace alone, without works, enables us and requires of us to identify ourselves so much with our fellow- Christians that we rejoice with them in their joy, entering into their happiness and being pleased with their success, or to weep with them in their hurt, saddened by their pain and loss. We can try to hide our envy when we still feel it. Unbelievers are able to put on an artificial smile and mouth congratulations, while underneath jealousy and envy simmers. But God calls for more; He requires of us something positive. We may not detach ourselves from others (in their success). Instead we are to be positively happy with them and for them. God requires of those He so graciously saves that they rejoice with others in their joy. We are called to identify ourselves with others.
It is the Spirit of Christ who alone is able to make possible something so unnatural to us sons and daughters of Adam. We all have the one and same Spirit working regeneration and sanctification in each of us. As a result of this work of the Spirit we are able to mortify our pride and to identify with the other members of the body of Christ.
Thus we can obey this command. We begin to realize that nothing happens to our fellowsaints without affecting us, for “by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” So “whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it” (I Cor. 12:13, 26). Whatever happens to the other members of Christ’s body affects us. And, still more, whatever happens to one member happens to Christ (cf. Is. 63:9) our Head. We identify ourselves, not only with each other, but also with our Head, Jesus Christ.
Practically, for us humans to live harmoniously with all our fellow-saints, it is necessary that we be “of the same mind one toward another.” Literally, we are to be thinking the same with one another. It is surprising how many times the apostle admonishes Christians to be of the same mind one with another: I Corinthians 1:10; I Corinthians 11:17-19; Philippians 1:27; Philippians 3:15, 16;Colossians 2:1-3, 6, 7. We are to think the same things about God, about His Christ, about His adopted children, about the salvation He so graciously imparts to such undeserving sinners. We have the same mind when each of us does not “think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Rom. 12:3). We are to be of the same mind, so that our distinctions (being different members of the same body) do not create division but instead exhibit beautiful harmony. The members of the body of Christ are to work together under the Head for the sake of the whole.
How are we to be of the same mind one toward another? We are to “mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate.”
To mind high things is to be “high minded” (Rom. 11:20). It is to think high or exalted things about ourselves, to be proud or arrogant. It can be intellectual pride. In the history of the church there have always been those with intellectual pride who constantly needed to be reminded that “knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know” (I Cor. 8:1, 2). It can be high desires or ambition for riches and honor or company with great people (I Tim. 6:17). Thinking high things about and for ourselves always makes us look down on others. When we think proudly of ourselves, then we consider others to be either a threat or inferior. May God give us the grace to say with the psalmist, “Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters or in things too high for me” (Ps. 131:1).
Instead of minding high things, we are to “condescend to men of low estate.” “Low estate” is something that does not rise far from the ground—that which is lowly, meek, or depressed. Pride and selfishness are mortified by condescending. The idea is that we must readily identify and associate with humble things and humble people. Jesus urged His disciples, when making a dinner, to invite, not their friends and family (“lest they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee”), but the poor, maimed, lame, and blind (Luke 14:12, 13). Bear up the weak, be concerned for the poor and ignorant. Condescend to the weaknesses of others in order to help them.
When God, in His boundless grace, gives us to have an intellectual understanding of His precious truth, there is reason for humility. We are to be humble not only with those who are given, in God’s wisdom, to know the truth less well, but especially with those who do not have what we have been given (cf. I Cor. 3:18). We ought not care whether people are high or low, intelligent or unintelligent, but whether they are Christ’s. Our Lord washed our feet! Social distinctions are completely inconsistent in the church of Christ. And any ideas of high and low are especially incongruous in the Reformed church, for the Reformed believer ought to know, better than any other Christian, the nature of human depravity and the wonder of grace.
That is why our text concludes: “Be not wise in your own conceits.” We are not to be wise concerning ourselves. We become wise in our own conceits when we forget our natural face and what manner of men we are (cf. James 1:23, 24). We may never forget that “we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us” (Tit. 3:3-5). This is what enables one to show “all meekness unto all men” (Tit. 3:2). To be full of self takes away the ability to love others, for love seeks not her own (I Cor. 13:5).
The sin of thinking of ourselves and being wise in our own conceits is what makes us most like the devil, who constantly thinks about his own desires and goals. Besides, we have nothing of which to be proud, for all that we have has been given to us (I Cor. 4:3, 4, 7). Then we realize that the more we know, the more we understand that we know so little. The greater the knowledge, the greater the humility.
Let us walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). Consider our Lord, who was meek and lowly (Matt. 11:29). May the knowledge of the greatness of our own sinfulness and the graciousness of salvation lead us more and more to identify with those saved by the same grace. Then we can weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.