1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1–3)
The first three chapters of Ephesians were about the calling of the Church and now, in the last three chapters we will see what is to be the conduct of the Church.
Paul announces that new theme in verse one of chapter four:
Ephesians 4:1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,
He “beseeches” (strongly urges or pleads) that Christians would “walk worthy” of the “vocation wherewith ye are called.”
“Vocation” is another word for “calling,” and he is referring to everything that he’s laid out in the first three chapters. For example,:
1) As Christians we are called to be holy and without blame:
4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: (Ephesians 1:4)
2) As Christians we are called to inherit riches in Christ:
11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: (Ephesians 1:11)
3) As Christians we are called to be saved by grace to walk in good works:
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8–10)
And so on. Those things are our vocation…our calling.
Paul’s issue here in these last three chapters is that Christians—the Church— “walk worthy” of this great calling that we have been called into by God.
That we would live up to the blessings and riches given to us in Christ.
First on his list of how we should conduct ourselves is that we should live—walk—together in unity as the Church.
This unity is an inner, spiritual unity first and foremost. Not the ecumenical unity so many churches attempt to have these days by forgetting the doctrine of our calling and joining together in organizations or events on a social level.
How do we achieve that sort of unity?
In verse two, Paul lists four attitudes that lead to a true unity. As we will see each attitude builds on the other, resulting the preservation of unity in the Church.
Ephesians 4:2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
In other words, if we as individuals practice these attitudes, we will find ourselves often at peace with and in unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
First, we begin with…
“With all lowliness” (ταπεινοφροσύνης, Gen/Sg/Fem, ταπεινοφροσύνη, “humility”). Humility means that we think of others before ourselves. It is refusing to consider ourselves as most important.
A. Humility Required For Salvation
Humility is one of the most basic of Christian attitudes. For one thing, a person cannot become a Christian without humility.
You see, to become a Christian, you have to admit that you are a sinner and you cannot, through your own strength, get to Heaven.
You have to be humble enough to admit that you deserve to go to Hell and God is right in his judgment of you.
Then it’s also a humbling experience to realize that, despite the fact that you are such a sinner, God loves you and sent his Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross to pay for your sins (Romans 5:8).
We like to say that to be saved, all you have to do is receive Jesus and place your faith in him. It’s a simple thing, really…but it’s very humbling.
So humbling that most people will never get to the point of receiving Christ. They just can’t get past themselves. They will prefer to be an atheist, or they will follow some religion of their own making.
Only a humble heart will come to Jesus Christ.
B. Humility Required In Conduct
Humility is not only required to become a Christian, it is also to be a part of our daily conduct. We read this command to Christians in Philippians:
3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. (Philippians 2:3)
I heard of story from China that happened several decades ago:
[There was a Christian farmer in] south China who had his rice field on a hill. During the growing season he used a hand-worked water wheel to lift water from the irrigation stream that ran by the base of the hill to his field.
His neighbor had two fields below his, and one night he made a hole in the dividing wall and drained out all the Christian’s water to fill up his own two fields.
The brother was distressed. But he laboriously pumped water up into his own field, only to have the act of stealing repeated. This happened three or four times.
At last he consulted his Christian brethren. “What shall I do?” he asked. “I have tried to be patient and not retaliate. Isn’t it right for me to confront him?”
The Christians prayed, and then one of them replied. “If we only try to do the right thing, surely we are very poor Christians,” he said. “We have to do something more than what is right.”
The Christian farmer was impressed with this advice. So the next day he went out and first pumped water for the two fields below his and then, after that, worked throughout the afternoon to fill his own field.
From that day on the water stayed in his field, and in time the neighbor, after making inquiries as to what caused him to behave in such a fashion, became a Christian.
This is humility. It is refusing to insist on our rights and actually putting our neighbor’s interests before our own.
(James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library, 1988], 123–124)
A humble Christian’s conduct will be a witness that could lead others to come to Christ.
C. Humility Comes From Awareness
How do we get to be humble? Partly humility comes from awareness.
A humble person is very much aware of who they are. They understand that they are sinners and that they are unworthy of anything God provides for them.
The humble person has an honest view of themselves. They’ve taken off the rose-colored glasses and see themselves for what they really are: a sinner completely dependent on God for everything.
In practical terms, one way this might manifest itself is that the humble person won’t think that they have to share every story about their life with everyone, whereas the prideful person drones on and on about every detail.
When the humble Christian does tell a story about themselves, it’s not to glorify themselves; they give God the credit for working in their lives.
The prideful person doesn’t even realize that God worked through a situation in their lives.
That’s because part of becoming humble is not only having a proper self-awareness, but also a proper…
The Christian ought to be the most God-aware person on Earth, but often we’re just the same as everyone else—trudging through life as though what we see is all that there is.
When we consciously focus ourselves on God, learning more and more about him from the Bible, we will find ourselves humbled. Encounters with the living Lord are always humbling.
Consider how Isaiah responded when he encountered the Lord:
1 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. 2 Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. 3 And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: The whole earth is full of his glory. 4 And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. (Isaiah 6:1–5)
This same sort of encounter can happen to us (without the smoke) when we read the Bible and allow the Spirit to speak to us through the Word.
And when we are made aware of God:
- We will see his holiness and be humbled by our sinfulness.
- We will see his love and be humbled by our unworthiness.
- We will see his providence and be humbled by his invisible, daily provision for us.
Humility leads us to…
Meekness is from the Greek, πραΰτης, which means, “the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of oneʼs self-importance, gentleness, humility, courtesy, considerateness, meekness” (BDAG). It can mean modesty or mildness also (EDNT).
The KJV “meekness” is a very good translation, but you need to remember what meekness really means. Meekness is often considered a weakness.
A. Meek Is Not Weak
The world tells everyone, from children to adults: “Assert yourself; look out for yourself first; donʼt be bullied by anyone.” Jesus tells us: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
We are afraid of being meek because we think it means that we are weak. But to be truly meek, you have to be stronger than your worst bully.
The Greek word for meekness was used to describe an ox pulling a plow. At first blush, who would want to be like an ox—serving as slave? But when you think about it, the ox pulling a plow is a picture of great strength, not weakness.
B. Meek Christ, Meek Christian
Jesus, whom no one would dare call weak, was very much a meek person. He even described himself that way:
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (Matthew 11:29).
As Christians we are to be meek as Christ. We are to be meek all the time, because meekness is vital in maintaining unity among believers because we won’t be pushing ourselves and our agenda on others. Instead we will be considerate of the feelings and the life-situations of one another.
Meekness causes us to be:
The word for “longsuffering” (μακροθυμίας, Gen/Sg/Fem, μακροθυμία, “patience,” “steadfastness”) literally means “long-tempered.” I like describing “long-suffering” as “patient endurance.”
Long-suffering is not to be a bitter, grit your teeth and bear it, affair either. Certainly it will be hard, but the attitude we are to have is one of joy:
11 Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; (Colossians 1:11)
How can we learn to joyfully be long-suffering? By remembering that God is long-suffering with us.
According to a traditional Hebrew story, Abraham was sitting outside his tent one evening when he saw an old man, weary from age and journey, coming toward him.
Abraham rushed out, greeted him, and then invited him into his tent. There he washed the old man’s feet and gave him food and drink.
The old man immediately began eating without saying any prayer or blessing. So Abraham asked him, “Don’t you worship God?”
The old traveler replied, “I worship fire only and reverence no other god.” When he heard this, Abraham became incensed, grabbed the old man by the shoulders, and threw him out his tent into the cold night air.
When the old man had departed, God called to his friend Abraham and asked where the stranger was. Abraham replied, “I forced him out because he did not worship you.”
God answered, “I have suffered him these eighty years although he dishonors me. Could you not endure him one night?”
(Thomas Lindberg qtd in Galaxie Software, 10,000 Sermon Illustrations [Biblical Studies Press, 2002])
When we humbly and meekly learn to patiently endure both trials and people, we will be able to be…
IV. FORBEARING WITH ONE ANOTHER
Notice that when he says, “forbearing one another in love,” he is talking about bearing with fellow Christians.
“forbearing” (ἀνεχόμενοι, Pres/Pass/Part/Gen/Sg/Fem, ἀνέχομαι, “put up with,” “bear with”)
Recall the story of the Christian farmer who had an unsaved neighbor stealing water.
You could imagine that it would be easier to be humble, meek, and long-suffering in that situation because the man was an unbeliever and that by showing him a good witness, it might be the thing to bring him to Christ—which was the very thing that happened.
But what if the one stealing the water was a fellow Christian? Would you have been able to bear with that Christian and show him a good witness then?
There are lots of reasons that Christians need to bear up with one another:
- The fellow church member who doesn’t talk to you at church. We could sit and fume about how wrong they are not to notice us, or we could bear with it, and maybe even go talk to them.
- The complainer who complains about every little thing: the poor job the janitor did; the pastor not standing in the right place; that we didn’t follow Robert’s Rules of Order exactly in a meeting, etc.
Believe me, the list of reasons that we need to put up with one another is long indeed—and sadly, it shouldn’t be. Christians should be the first ones who rise above petty disputes and complaints.
But because the sinful nature still infects us, the urge to argue and complain over every little thing will drag with us until the rapture.
The spiritually-minded Christian will strive to bear with the struggling Christians who can’t seem to rise above such things.
Humility, meekness, long-suffering, and forbearing with one another will all lead us to:
Ephesians 4:3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
First, notice that it is “Endeavouring [diligently striving, trying hard] to keep the unity of the Spirit.” Our effort is not to make the unity, it is to keep or preserve the unity of the Spirit.
It’s the Spirit that creates the unity by making us part of the body of Christ when we become Christians. It’s a unity that goes beyond organizations and denominations. It’s a unity of hearts and a love for Christ.
Harry Ironside said that on a long train trip back home, someone saw him reading his Bible. She asked if she could join him. Then a man saw them reading their Bibles and he joined them.
By the end of the journey twenty-eight Christians had joined together to read their Bibles.
As they departed, someone asked him what denomination he belonged to and Ironside said, “David’s denomination” and he quoted David in Psalm 119:63—
63 I am a companion of all them that fear thee, And of them that keep thy precepts. (Psalm 119:63)
(James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library, 1988], 125)
I see in that true unity. Where we just love to come together and study the Bible and worship Christ. Sure, there will be disagreements, but the unity of the Spirit will be stronger than those disagreements.
Most disunity in a church is not over what it should be over: doctrine. It’s over petty issues because fellow Christians don’t display humility, meekness, long-suffering and be forbearing with one another.
J. Dwight Pentecost tells of a church split that was so serious each side filed a lawsuit to dispossess the others from the church, completely disregarding the Biblical injunction not to go to court against fellow believers.
The civil courts threw it out, but eventually it came to a church court, where it belonged. The higher judiciary of the church made its decision and awarded the church property to one of the two factions. The losers withdrew and formed another church in the area.
In the course of the proceedings the church courts found that the conflict had begun at a church dinner when an elder received a smaller slice of ham than a child seated next to him.
The root of the impasse was an absence of patience and forbearing love — not to mention humility and gentleness! (R. Kent Hughes, Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ, Preaching the Word [Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990], 123)
Christian, you and I, all of us, are to be wrapped with a “bond of peace” around us. That bond of peace is what keeps the unity of Spirit between us.
We often think that it is others that have to change to keep the peace among Christians. Sometimes that is true, but often it is we ourselves who have to change.
I think what we’ve seen here is that the bond of peace is like a chain with several links. Can you guess what those links are?
- The link of lowliness or humility. We will consider others before ourselves.
- The link of meekness. We will be gentle because that is when we are the strongest.
- The link of long-suffering. We will patiently endure wrongs against us.
- The link of forbearing with one another. We will put up with the foibles and complaints of one another.
Then we will have unity. Real unity of the Spirit.