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The Humble Relationship Guidebook

The Humble Relationship Guidebook

If we were to make a guidebook for the entire humble Christian life, Romans 12:10–18 would be a key part of it. The apostle Paul started the discussion in Romans 12:3 with a framework of humility, warning people not to think of themselves “more highly” than they should.

Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, he told them. — NLT

What follows in verses 10 through 18 is wisdom we can use to keep our hearts soft as we maintain boundaries.

We are to love one another as siblings, honestly and without hypocrisy. And — I love this part — to

take the lead in honoring one another. — v. 10

Verses 12 through 15 lists actions to take:

  • Rejoice in hope.
  • Be patient in affliction.
  • Persist in prayer.
  • Share with the saints in all needs.
  • Pursue hospitality.
  • Bless those who persecute you.
  • Bless, don’t curse.
  • Rejoice with those who rejoice.
  • Weep with those who weep.

In verse 16, we find a collection of powerful pursuits, the secrets to accomplishing the list above.

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation.

Something to know about biblical authors: sometimes they used sentence structures that held meaning, so the arrangement of ideas itself conveyed a message. One sentence built on another and ultimately hinged on a statement that brought definition to the surrounding text. The technical term for this is chiasm, and I think Paul was using this strategy in these verses.

This means that if we want to make sense of how to live out the verses around verse 16 — that is, verses 10–15 and 17–19 — we need to look closely here in verse 16.

Living in harmony (or peace) with others requires us to abstain from pride (which leads to concrete hearts). It requires us to surround ourselves with people who are humble — people who don’t think they are wise in their own estimation, who don’t think of themselves first and others second, and who fight against the temptation of pride at every turn.

Humility, which we see throughout verse 16, is the hinge that makes the other verses actually livable. When you and I have a proper awareness of who we are in light of who God is, it changes everything.

We are intimately aware of the great mercy and kindness of God.

(So we can rejoice in hope. Be patient in affliction. Persist in prayer. And bless those who persecute us.)

We are more prone to show grace and mercy to other image bearers who are in the same position we are.

(So we can share with all the saints in all needs and pursue hospitality.)

We recognize that we’re all fighting and struggling for godliness and holiness in a world that is trying to steer us off course, pushing us to give in to selfish ambition and pride.

(So we can rejoice and weep with others and live in harmony with them.)

Humility helps us identify what is hypocritical. When we truly know ourselves, it is more difficult to present a false version of ourselves or to entertain relationships with people who present fake versions of themselves.

(So we can let love be without hypocrisy.)

Now, how exactly can you apply all this Romans 12 wisdom to boundaries?

First, these verses can help you form a vision for when boundaries need to be established. The goal is harmony, so if there is disharmony, it is a sign that you may need to create a boundary or reevaluate your existing boundaries.

Next, these verses guide you in the right heart attitude to have while establishing and keeping boundaries. It’s never about bitterness or resentment. It’s about choosing healthy, wise ways to love and connect with each other.

Rest assured that if a relationship has brought you deep hurt, you can live out Romans 12 without becoming a doormat. You can keep your heart both protected and soft.

Perhaps the only way for you (and others) to experience peace is to pull back from daily communication with certain individuals. But whenever you do communicate with them, you remain kind and caring.

Or maybe you take a break from communication altogether for a while. As you do, you pray for that person — persistently. If it’s too painful to pray for them, ask God to give you a heart that will be able to pray for them someday. This whole thing is a process, and that’s okay. But let’s make a decision to be committed to the process, because it will bring about a personal good for us, which will help create an environment of peace.

Humility is crucial for keeping a soft heart whenever we make hard decisions about boundaries. This includes the times when peace is not possible with others.

“As Far As It Depends on You”

Romans 12:18 reads,

If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

It’s important to note the construction of this sentence. It starts with a conditional clause: “if possible.” This has huge implications for us in our relationships, especially when it comes to boundaries.

Paul was saying that sometimes it’s not possible to live at peace with someone.

How do we know if “living at peace” is possible? The next phrase helps answer that: “As far as it depends on you.”

Now, if you and I were sitting at Starbucks and studying this passage, I would pause and ask you how you felt reading this. If you were honest with me, you might say, “That is so unfair! Why should I have to bear the responsibility of keeping the peace in a strenuous relationship? It’s made up of two people — the status of peace shouldn’t depend only on me!”

Friend, I feel you, I hear you, and, trust me, there is a part of me that agrees with you.

But I do want to flip the question and ask, What if Paul had written it another way? What if he’d said “as far as it depends on them”?

Now how are you feeling?

That would be even more devastating because it’d leave you truly helpless. You’d be stuck as a bystander while someone else called all the shots.

So when verse 18 puts the ownership on you, it’s actually a gift, not a burden. It’s a gift because only you can know if you’ve done all that is possible. Only you have the power and ability to act on your own behalf and create a boundary. This verse is confirming your agency.

All right, let’s say you have done everything within your power. What is your next priority?

Again, it’s to live at peace with everyone. That’s right! It’s your goal in every scenario.

If it’s possible to live at peace, you’re shooting for living with peace.

And if it’s not possible to live in peace — and you know because you’ve done everything you can to create peace in a relationship, and nothing has changed — the goal is still the same: to live at peace with all people.

Wait, though. How can that happen, since we just said “it’s not possible”?

Well, you may have to establish boundaries, and those boundaries can create peace. Even if it means removing your presence from a relationship.

I know this is hard. And if we don’t have humility as the soil of our souls to protect our hearts, it causes our hearts to become stone-cold. But humility keeps our hearts soft. While the relationship may not be restored, we can still cherish the peace that we have internally and externally.

Anything is possible in the Kingdom of God and by the power of God.

There is always hope for transformation, for a relationship to be restored in unexpected and inexplicable ways. But a key even to this is maintaining a humble heart that is receptive to this possibility.

Early on in my teenage years, I caused a lot of hurt for some people close to me. I acted out of selfishness, pride, arrogance, and a total disregard for others. As a result, those relationships became fractured and broken. I was the problem, I was the cause, and those people around me were the victims.

After a few years (and some needed maturing), I realized how destructive my behavior had been. I reached out to apologize to those people, acknowledging that the way I’d acted was unacceptable. For the majority of them, it was too little too late. The hurt had been too profound. While they did forgive me, the possibility of reconciliation was unlikely.

Fast-forward almost two decades later, and I ran into one of those old friends at an airport. We both had a layover and decided to grab some food together. We sat, we laughed, we caught up on life. In a surprising and unexpected way, God brought us back together. Since then we’ve slowly been building our relationship again. Two decades ago I never would have imagined this would be possible. And then I found myself in awe of how powerfully God had worked.

What did this require? Humility to own mistakes. Humility to accept boundaries that were placed on me (loss of relationship). Many of us may not have thought about how humility is necessary to be a recipient of boundaries. But we all will be on the giving or receiving end at some point, and humility is so valuable for us as we process through these situations. It also required the cultivation of humility as the soil of my Christian life to keep my heart soft and open to what God may do. I’m grateful and humbled that God worked the way he did. Restoration is never a guarantee, but when it does happen, it’s such a kindness.

Even more powerful is that I was able to live in a state of peace because humility was my guide. There was peace through the loss of a relationship and the establishment of boundaries. There was peace as God restored and reconciled a relationship.

“Where there is humility, there is peace.”

Excerpted with permission from The Hidden Peace by Joel Muddamalle, copyright Joel Muddamalle.

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Your Turn

Most of us need to work on boundaries in our relationships, right? I’m working on memorizing Romans 12:10–18 and I invite you to as well. Let’s live at peace with those around us as far as it depends on us! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full