It doesn’t. Not always. Not often, even. It seems that the more we know, the more condescending we become. We study the Bible to gain theological insight, then we set out to prove other people wrong. Theology becomes ammunition for debate rather than food for our soul. Rather than allowing God’s truth to shape our souls, we use it to sharpen our insults.
But listen to what Paul says about all of this:
“I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think…Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor…Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”
These are powerful words. Don’t think of yourself too highly. Love other people, find ways to honor them, bless even your enemies, hang out with the outcasts. Don’t even begin to think that you’ve become wise.
But here’s what I find most compelling about Paul’s statements here: Paul says all of this in Romans 12. Which means that this comes immediately after Romans 1–11 (deep, I know).
In Romans 1–11, Paul lays out some of the most detailed, profound, and tightly reasoned theology in the whole Bible. Several intense theological debates are drawn from interpreting these chapters. But in Romans 12, Paul tells us how to behave in light of the theology he has just described. These statements in Romans 12 are the practical outworking of the theology of Romans 1–11.
We seem to think Romans 12 reads like this:
“I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, in light of everything I have said, oppose those who disagree with your interpretation of these things. Question their intelligence, avoid listening carefully to their arguments. Be strong and insensitive in this, for in putting them down you show yourself to be great in the kingdom of heaven.”
But, of course, Paul didn’t write that. So we shouldn’t act as though he did. When Paul laid out his most complex theological argument, he explained that it ought to lead us to humility. It should cause us to worship, not argue. It should cause us to love our opponents, not slander them. It should increase our unity, not undermine it.
Theology is not more important than unity, nor should we promote unity at the expense of theology. Rather, theology ought to lead us to unity. Paul seems to think that theology produces humility. Perhaps we need to become more passionate about theology—not just its intellectual contours, but its practical implications as well.