“… do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.” Romans 11:18 NIV
I remember a time in my 20s when our household only made minimum wage, and had two little boys who grew as fast as weeds. I had clothes that were neat and clean – some were gotten on clearance and others from the thrift shop in town. They weren’t the fanciest but they served the purpose. Then one day I was offered an administrative position at my work. I was told that management had seen potential in me but that I needed to go talk to the general manager before my first official day. I went into his office and was asked if I had “better” attire to wear in my new job. I said I would look through my closet and do the best I could. The general manager then gave me money to go buy clothes so I would “fit in” and “people would take me seriously”. While this would be seen as a gracious gift, I felt the weight of one’s superiority in a higher social status bearing judgement on my ability to do my job based on my looking the part of a particular social circle.
To this day, I am acutely aware of how people consider themselves superior based on economic, social, and political standing within a community. A superiority complex creates a greater chance of falling, because at some point, we are all humbled.
Even as I work with people with disabilities, there is a superiority of those who have certain abilities over those who are seen as disabled – so much so, that those with challenges are seen as either token “disability” member, charity cases, or totally dismissed. This “superiority” perception can damage our witness as Christ’s Body, working in ministry and mission together, because we forget the “root that supports us.”
In this section of Romans, Paul is talking about the Israelites and the Gentiles through an allegory of the grafting of garden olive trees and wild olive trees. In his words to the Roman Gentile church, he cautions them that they need not think they are better than the Jews. Scholar William Barclay puts it succinctly “there would have been no such thing as Christianity unless there had been Judaism first.” Too often, we toss the Old Testament away as irrelevant; however, it can’t be irrelevant if Jesus said He came to “fulfill the Law and the Prophets.” (ref. Matt. 5:17)
Barclay continues; “only fools kick away the ladder which raised them to the height which they have reached”. We need to examine our hearts and actions, to see if we are inadvertently or intentionally being superior to a fellow brother or sister in Christ. If we are, we are only hurting ourselves and our witness.
I have seen the social structure in our community and workplaces played out within the walls of the church. We spend so much time judging if a person is an appropriate choice in ministry or leadership based on their family lineage, instead of asking if they are rooted in God’s family through Christ. When we forget those who do the teaching to raise up our leaders- when we forget those who climb under the building to run cables or check for leaks so others can be comfortable on Sunday morning– when we forget those who do the background work so others can rise above their circumstances – then we forget vital members in the Body of Christ. When we forget that God looks at the heart first, we are setting ourselves up for a fall from our lofty opinion of ourselves.
Let us not kick away the ladder that raises us up – either in church heritage or by community support. We should also not boast that we as a church are better than any other church. It takes ALL of us to be the church on a mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are only as good as our relationship with Christ, as His Spirit flows in and through us.
For without Christ, none of us get lifted up and all of us fall short. Rooted in Christ, we can grow together into something bigger than ourselves.