Study # 2
Ephesians 4:1-16, which calls disciples to walk together in unity, is divided into three units. The first unit (4:1-6) stresses the need to maintain unity within a local church. The second unit (4:7-10) speaks of the diverse ministries that are given to a local church. The third unit (4:11-16) shows how the operation of each ministry fits together to promote the unity and maturity in a local church. This call to unity is the first way that disciples are called to live, “in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Along with the other ways (holiness, love, the light, and wisdom), disciples are called to live in a manner that fittingly reflects their privileged calling to be children of God who now reside together in a new household.
Taking a closer look at verses 1-3, disciples are called to live in a way that reflects their new privileged calling by being, “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” While disciples have received their calling by grace and not human merit, the command is to live in a way that corresponds with their calling. God has prepared His children for good works, “that we should walk in them” (2:10). Disciples have been given new life and placed in a new family. So, disciples are to evidence their new life by living in unity within their new family. Disciples do not make themselves worthy of redemption; however, they are called to live in a way that shows a fitness in how they live out their redemption. While disciples do not earn their redemption, they are to give evidence of it.
The “unity of the Spirit,” means that the nature of the unity that believers are called to maintain is the unity that the Holy Spirit provides. A part of the Holy Spirit’s agenda is unity amongst a fellowship of believers. Paul is directing believers to strive in harmony with and never out of sync with what is the Spirit’s agenda. The Holy Spirit is the One who: (1) brings believers to Christ (1 Corinthians 2:14-16); (2) gives believers assurance that God is their Father (Romans 8:15-16); and enables believers to love others (Galatians 5:22). These realities from the Spirit are vital because the things that believers are called to do are not natural; they must be supernaturally empowered.
“In the bonds of peace,” is another characteristic of the nature of the unity that believers are called to maintain. Unity not only starts with what the Spirit provides but also what Jesus created. Ephesians 2:14-17 emphasizes the peace Christ that obtained: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” Christ established a peace that creates a true bonding effect.
Because of what Christ has done as well as how the Spirit has applied Christ’s work, the word maintain properly connotes what is required of disciples. On the other hand, verse 13 states, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood.” The word attain has a slightly different connotation than maintain. Are disciples required to maintain or attain unity? From the perspective of the unity that Christ has already acquired and the Spirit applied, maintain best reflects what is required. But from the perspective of how disciples must live in unity bringing it to its fullest expressions, attain best reflects what is required. The unity that already has been purchased and provided must now be preserved and publicly displayed.
In light of what God has done to establish a unity for disciples to experience, eagerness should characterize a disciple’s response. Being eager means making it a top priority, sparing no effort. Then Paul uses five words or phrases to inform how this eagerness is to be expressed. Eagerness to maintain unity is expressed in a commitment to cultivate and carry out: “all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” These qualities are expressed in a disciple’s attitudes as well as his actions.
A disciple’s awareness of their high and privileged calling should promote a lowly and humble consideration of one’s self. A disciple is not to cultivate just a touch of humility and gentleness; they are to cultivate a complete makeover being given over to all aspects of humility and gentleness. While self-assertion, self-esteem, and self-confidence are highly touted, they are actually destroyers of unity. Humility and gentleness express the internal attitude and outlook of a disciple committed to unity.
Humility is the disposition of thinking minimally of one’s self, thinking more of Christ and others. The opposite of humility is pride, that is, self-seeking and self-boasting. Gentleness is the demeanor of a person with a humble disposition. Gentleness is not weakness for it is actually true strength: having one’s self under control. The opposite of gentleness is rudeness, harshness, and even unfriendliness. The qualities of humility and gentleness are not given to hypersensitivity, resentfulness, and retaliation.
The prideful have little control over their selves and so they have little use for or ability to exercise patience and forbearance in love. But when the inward qualities of humility and gentleness are cultivated, then patience and bearing with one another in love become visible actions. While patience is being long tempered or longsuffering, forbearance elaborates on patience by adding the accompanying notion of endurance. The doubling effect of two related words underscores a call to persevere and not give up. Forbearing in love means not being a faultfinder but remaining with those whose faults are clear.
Cultural Jews as well as cultural Gentiles had been brought together to form the new household of faith. The bringing together of different cultures of people to be “one new man,” meant that the qualities of humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance in love would not have been easy to cultivate and carry out. But it must be remembered that these qualities are not merely qualities that disciples must to be eager to display to others; they are the very qualities that the Godhead displays toward their children.