Thinking About Others More Highly Than Yourself – Romans 12:3


In order to define how we ought to think of one another, Paul redefines how we related to one another. First, he says we ought to think with humility. The ESV “more highly than we ought” is a translation of a single Greek word (ὑπερφρονέω). It used only here in the New Testament. Although it can be used in a positive sense of “excel in intelligence” it is usually negative, “to be haughty” (BDAG).

Second, we ought to consider one another with sober judgment. The noun (σωφρονέω) has the sense of reasonable, sensible action. Paul uses this same word in 2 Cor 5:13 with the sense of “be in my right mind.” Grammatically this phrase is an articular infinitive expressing purpose (εἰς τὸ σωφρονεῖν), modifying another infinitive. We are to think of others first because it is the right way to think. To put ourselves first would be non-sensible thinking, something to be avoided.

In Rom 1:18–32 Paul argued humans have lost some of their rationality when they reject the clear revelation of God existence and attributes. No he is able to say to those who are “in Christ” that they can think reasonably and sensibly, but the outcome of that sensible thinking his service to others.

Third, Paul uses the phrase “according to the measure of faith given to us.” This can be taken several ways in the context of spiritual gifts. The verb (μερίζω) refers to dividing something up and allotting or distributing it to a group. For example in Mark 6:41 Jesus divides the fish and bread amongst the disciples to distribute to the crowd.  With this in mind, some have argued God has given varying levels of spiritual gifts to individuals so that some have more (and are held more responsible) and some have less (and are therefore less responsible) for how they use that gift.

The problem is some individuals will appear to have more faith than others. This would naturally lead to an inequality in the body of Christ. In addition it implies that someone with less faith is somehow less able to serve God. But that is not the way faith works in the Pauline letters. In 1 Cor 10:13 the word is used to describe God assigning an “area of influence” for believers, so that the believer exercises their gifts in the area to which God has called them to work. In this view, all are given the same thing (the Holy Spirit and his enablement to do ministry), but the area of that influence varies.

It is better to understand the word measure as the standard by which each individual this judge. In this view, a person is the judge by the measure of faith they have been giving rather than the measure of faith another person has been given.  “Paul defines ‘sober-mindedness’ as the refusal to impose the standard of one’s own relationship with God onto others” (Jewett, 742).

This is radically different than the way the Greco-Roman world thought. Jewett cites Aristotle, who thought humans “should make themselves immortal through the exercise of reason” (Jewett, 741). Sober mindedness is a kind of “divine element in humankind.” But for Paul, our ability to think rationally is part of the image of God and is corrupted by sin.

Humans often think rationally, but it is inconsistent, twisted and (to use Paul’s metaphor), less-than-sober. What is an example of applying “humble thinking” to how the children of God relate to their world? If Jewett is right and humble-mindedness is “impose the standard of one’s own relationship with God onto others” – how does that work in an evangelical community where the preaching of the Gospel is a key value?


16 thoughts on “Thinking About Others More Highly Than Yourself – Romans 12:3

  1. I once heard the definition of humility stated as knowing where we are in our abilities and our sinful state, knowing the expectations for us, and relying on God to fill the gap. If we allow God to work in our lives and follow his leading, and recognize it as such, then it will be difficult for us to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. I believe the key to this is consistently begin self-aware and consistently spending time with God, asking him to reveal more and more to us about ourselves. This way we will always be seeing more ways for God to work in us.

    • How do you see in this verse the need to spend more time with God? Then we will know His will for our lives? How does Paul explain in Romans 12:3 that they need to let God work in their lives? I believe part of Paul’s mission is to keep the unity of the Church and he cannot do that if people think they are better than one another. With respect for one another in the Rome culture an already high value, Paul reverses it and claims people need to be humble. Paul is, I believe, shifting thee focusing of selves to God.

  2. I like David’s definition of humility in that there is a realization that we can’t do it alone and need God to help us and that there is a knowledge of where we are. I think, in addition to that, we have to realize that we are no better than anyone else and that all of us are equal to those who are both better off and those who are struggling. I think it is easy to justify our actions by saying that we have to take care of ourselves and make sure that we are taken care of and by doing this we fail to see the legitimate needs of others. When we understand that we are valuable to God not because of what we can do but because He loves us, we can begin to see others in that light. Without viewing others in an equal light we will never be able to humble ourselves enough to put their needs ahead of our own. Humility isn’t a depressing “worthless” feeling, it is wisdom used along with knowledge that we just can’t do it on our own. When we see that we need God we begin to see the different ways that we can live for God!

    • I agree with you Adam. When he realizing how incapable we are with God, we humble ourselves before Him and surrender all to Him. In this section of Romans, Paul hopes to counter the cultural norm of bringing honor to a person’s family and now to the name of Lord. Moo addresses that Paul wants to keep the unity of the Church by not making each other higher than the other, but focusing on the mighty, power of God (164). Paul is not saying humans are unimportant, but that Christians are serving a greater purpose than themselves so humble yourself before the Lord.

  3. Humility is a quality that is stressed a lot throughout the Bible. The translation that you talked about “more highly than we ought” is interesting to me. It makes it seem that it is not bad to have a little pride (or confidence would be a better word), but taking it too far is when it becomes a problem. We were created to be humble, and to put others before ourselves, as Paul explains with the use of “sober judgement”. It is only rational, and this was how it was designed to be by God.

    Douglas Moo mentions the two different views you also talked about concerning the “measure of faith”. He thinks it is more likely an objective standard that all Christians have in common: the faith itself (Moo). I agree with that. I do not think that God has given us spiritual gifts that are less or more important than others. They are all equally important, just different and unique to us. We are all able and commanded to serve God in the same way; with all our hearts, minds, and strength. We all have different callings where we can use these unique gifts in a variety of areas. What you said about the area of influence each of us has makes a lot of sense. As Christians we are called to humility, as Paul describes here, even though sin makes it harder.

  4. In this world there are a lot of different kinds of people. First there are people who are selfish and will do anything to get them selves ahead of and no matter the cost. Second there are the people who are the “people pleasers” and want to help in anyway they can. They do not have the ability to say no, and have the fear that if they do say no then they will lose a friend in the process. Third there are people who have a balance, they think of themselves along with others. It is important that we are considerate and have a helpful attitude toward people we may come in contact with but it is just as equal as important to consider the boundaries we put in our life. We are unable to be a positive helpful person when we don’t have anything to give. In order to give, we need to take care of ourselves. Even though this looks selfish, it is the only way if we are able to help further the kingdom of God.

  5. I love the idea of humble thinking, especially in a society where pride and arrogance are becoming the norm. In Romans 12:1-2, Paul urged the audience to be transformed from the world, and not to think how the world does. In verse 3, he introduces the idea of humble service: “…Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought…” This is a crucial element to any body of believers, because if pride, arrogance, and selfish egos enter an environment, focus gets taken off of what truly matters and views become distorted. Take for example when Paul talks about the “weak” and the “strong” in chapter 14. Their focus becomes narrow minded and the two groups argue over issues that are relatively minimal within the church. They argue about whether to eat meat or drink wine, and it is tearing them apart! They are not humble in their approach, and are prideful in the sense that their way is the only possible way. This is a main theme of division within the churches today because some members of the body are not willing to humble themselves. Doug Moo states, “Corporate worship should involve more than a group of isolated individuals…It should be a union of like-minded people, all dedicated to God and to each other” (Moo, 199). I believe Paul put this verse about humility right after the idea of “being transformed” because he realized the change it would make. If Christians were to approach every day life with humble service, it would go a very long way!

  6. Thinking about others more highly than yourself is probably one of the hardest things to do and successfully accomplish. We are all so self-focused and our first thoughts in most situations are about ourselves. No matter how much we would like to think or say that we put others before ourselves and that others are above us, we do not. We are sinful human beings who fail on a daily basis. We look out for ourselves and many times do not even think twice about those around us. It is interesting to read in Romans as well as other books in the Bible how God stresses the importance of loving your neighbor and enemy. We are called to look out for those around us and not think of ourselves as better or above others. Paul tells us that we are to think with humility. That is way easier to say then to actually do. Humility is a characteristic and way of life that most of us do not have. Ephesians 4:2 says that we are to show tolerance to one another in love by being humble, gentle and patient. There is no way on earth that we can accomplish this task, way of living and calling that God speaks to us about in the Bible on our own. We need help and guidance. This help in my opinion needs to come primarily from God, because if we seek only people to help us, we will not succeed because they are exactly like us; broken, failures and in need of help as well. God is perfect and knows exactly how to lead us and help us. Part of “being transformed” as we read in Romans as well as Encountering the Book of Romans, is walking humbly.

  7. I definitely think that our current society needs to redefine how they think of themselves and take on a sense of humility. There are many instances where people are thinking about how their actions will benefit themselves rather than how they could benefit other people. In the third to last paragraph in the post, you mentioned that Jewett says that Paul defines sober-mindedness as the refusal to impose the standard of one’s own relationship to God with others. This would basically mean that being humble minded would be showing others the standard of having a relationship with God. I like this definition personally because as a college student who works in a fast-food restaurant who is going to school for what I feel like God is calling me to do, I feel like I’m in a weird in-between zone. Most of the people I work with at Culvers’ don’t have a relationship with Christ and for a while I felt like I couldn’t share my faith because I was around non-believers. Currently, I talk about my faith and school and try to be the light of Jesus in my particular store. As a result of this, one of my co-workers came up to me and asked if she could meet with me and talk with me about Jesus because she knew I would be able to give her good information because I was open about my relationship with God. This experience made me realize that God has a job for me wherever I am, even if it’s a minimum-wage fast-food job.

  8. The idea of “imposing the standard of one’s own relationship with God onto others” on the surface seems to just be bragging in a nice way. However, by interpreting it this way, we are robbing ourselves of something really valuable. Rather than bragging, the idea of sharing our relationship with God is more about accountability. If we never talk about our walk with God, then none of us are held to any standard other than our own. We might not even know that we are stagnant if we never humble ourselves to share our hearts. In a community that teaches the gospel, this concept should come as second nature. The cross unites us and that brings us together in a way unlike any other. Although it should come second nature, it does not necessarily. That is where being intentional comes in and humbling ourselves in such a way to share our experiences in a way that is revealing but not boastful.

  9. Thinking about others more highly than we think about ourselves is a concept that is extremely contrary to the world’s modern manner of thinking. To the world, it would be natural to do whatever it takes to get ahead. We are our own masters, and where we end up depends on what we are willing to do: however, in TTP, Longenecker claims that Paul’s message “establishes a basis for transformed living that runs contrary to the quest for honor that marked out the ancient world (much like today)” (188). Honor is a huge part of our society, but it was an even greater aspect for the ancient world. Their cultural system ran on honor and shame! No one really tells anyone anymore that they have brought honor to their family, but in the ancient world, this was so important. Paul’s message calls people to realize their honor is in Christ alone; therefore, we should not be thinking about what will put me ahead, but rather, how can I love and serve other people and place their needs ahead of my own? We are to follow the example of Christ, who died the most shameful death possible. It is in an effort to have the mindset that Paul lays out in Romans 12:2, how we are “not to conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

  10. Every person is made in Gods image and is gifted differently. A person having more or different gifts than another person does not make them any better. Romans 12:6 says, we have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us” (NIV Romans 12:6). It should be the goal of the body of Christ to work together with different gifts to bring heaven to earth.
    Recently, I was questioned at a Bible study and an older man asked me if people ever are intimidated by me because I’m a Bible college student. I could’ve been defensive, but instead, I humbly shared some of the experiences I’ve had at Grace that have helped shape my faith. It’s important to realize that every Christian is in a different season of their walk with the Lord. I’m grateful to be where I am today and I’m not perfect. Everyday, it’s my goal to know and love Jesus more.

  11. We all have our own personal relationships with God. No relationship on the earth or with our Heavenly Father is going to be the same. We are not the ones who get to decide whether someone has a better relationship with God than the next person. That is what God will do when we make it up to Heaven one day. We are put on this earth to help other people grow in their walks with the Lord, but that does not mean that we can tell them that they are not as strong of a Christian as another person. We have to be slow to speak and slow to judge. We have to learn to walk with all different walks of life. Jesus did not just talk to people who knew who He was, but He talked to people who had no idea who God was. He talked to all sinners because He was trying to get them to understand who He was. We should be doing the same.

  12. Humility, this is a huge part of Christian culture. We are called to be humble and not boast. I was recently talking to my mentor about what healthy humility is. I see a lot of times, that people will talk down about themselves because they think that they are being humble, but in reality aren’t they not acknowledging the gifts God has given them? I think that it is important, to not jump to conclusions on where someone is in life, we have no knowledge of where their relationship with God is. I think in today’s society we might not talk about where we are with God enough, we are embarrassed that we might not look good. In reality though, aren’t we hindering ourselves? God does not want us to stay silent about all the gifts he has provided for us. If everyone had done that, I would not know Jesus today. We need to be bold with our faith because others were bold so we could know the truth. And I am forever grateful for them. By proclaiming our faith we are helping others and ourselves stay accountable to stay strong in our faith.

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