VERSE: “With all lowliness and meekness, with long suffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” - Ephesians 4:2-3
WHAT IS THAT ONE THING YOU CAN DO TO BETTER GET ALONG WITH OTHERS?
1. I can listen more than I speak.
2. I can put my phone down when I am with others.
3. I could look for common interests.
4. Your own ….?
Ephesians 4:1 speaks about what the Lord has given to us in Christ: our calling. He not only reminds us of this calling but entreats us to live according to this vision of what God has given to us. This describes what Paul reminds us to. There is often, a desperate cry in our hearts, “How?”
This is what Paul begins to address here in Ephesians 4:2-3. In these two verses Paul lists 5 things we are to pay attention to in order to carry out this vision of oneness with the Lord and others. They speak of ways we are to conduct ourselves with other believers: humble, gentle, patient, forbearance and diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit. When we live out our lives in this manner, others can live around us much more easily.
Just think about the difference between having a patient or impatient wife. A patient wife is not demanding but understanding. On the other hand, think what it is like to have a humble or prideful husband who always thinks he is right. The same is true in the church. The way we live with each other enables us to obtain those rich blessings that the Lord has given to us. When we do not live in this manner, sins crop up and Satan enters. Division, isolation, offensive words and unforgiving attitudes quickly develop. God’s way is always the best way.
The Lord has been teaching me more about this topic lately. Even though I have experienced some wonderful situations in the past, I have also had my share of strained relationships, misunderstandings, quick judgment and unforgiving spirit. Sometimes I am on the receiving side, but to be true, sometimes I have taken part in that critical side. Through this passage the Lord has given me a renewed energy to live out this unity despite the challenges I face.
The first four character qualities are essential to carrying out this mission. We need to constantly work on growing in these areas. Jesus was this way and wants us to let Him live His life through us. If our style of being a husband, wife, parent, leader, etc. is not characterized by these things, then we need to change our approach to life or our problems will only worsen.
“With all humility” highlights the need to recognize the importance of those others including those who are somewhat hostile toward us. This doesn’t mean that we as individuals have no value, but instead calls us to keep the right perspective of others and not be confused by the inflated value of ourselves over others. Our old nature just naturally has us think more of ourselves as more important than others. This is the enemy of love. A good test of our humility is to ask, “Do you see the need for others?” Humbling ourselves is an active step of thinking properly about oneself in the overall context of life.
“And gentleness” focuses on the kind way that we respond to people that we differ with. It is easy to respond nice to nice people, but when we meet a grump, it is easy to be grumpy back. Yesterday morning I had a run in with a local cashier. I was in line to buy some milk, but she was just looking down and doodling. The cashier next to me was busy with one person and then another. I finally asked whether my cashier would help me complete the purchase of the milk. She told me she was closed but her window had no indication of that. So I had to get at behind the person at the other register. I was tempted not to be gentle. Her rudeness and unwillingness to provide general courtesies shocked me. I had to tame myself down to speak gently. I hope I did!
“With patience” reminds us that we cannot insist everyone live trying to maximum our own time efficiency. That is great for ambulances but not for us. We need patience. Patience is that special ‘art’ of getting excited to help others be efficient in what they are doing even to our own detriment. When we are patient, we will not so easily blow up or react against others. Instead, it allows us to exude a kind spirit in disruptive situations.
“Showing forbearance to one another in love” emphasizes the need to actually forgive one another. Patience does not mean someone has wronged you, but forbearance contains this idea - something wrong is being done to you. The word literally means “to suffer.” In other words, we are called here to put up with the the improper behavior of others. This might come in the form of cursing, laziness, stealing or just plain selfishness. We need to show forbearance to all through the power of His love. We are to be forgiving as He has forgiven us.
Unity of the Spirit
We need to recognize that the unity that we are searching for is a unity from the Spirit of God. Unity can be bad when the ungodly act in opposition to God. I would actually not use the word unity to describe the similar mindset of the wicked but obviously there is some element of unity. Let me describe it through an illustration.
Once I was invited to this government banquet. There was to be a speech, but it seemed that most people were interested in the free food. When the food buffet opened, there was a dash to get to the table. One would have thought that they have not been fed for a long time, but by their size one could tell that this was not the case. They all dashed in one direction - towards the tables. Was this unity? Sort of. But it definitely was not the unity of the Spirit. How do I know? There was no consideration of one another. One had to be careful not to be trodden down by others.
What happens in such situations is that each individual follows his own appetite. As long as they each get their portion, they are happy. But if there is any threat to them missing out a bit on the free food, watch out. Contention develops. Their sense of unity is framed around their hope and willingness to use others to get what they so desperately want. It is the individual greed in each person like a compass that makes them work together. It is a superficial unity. The world might seem to function as a unity in some respects, but they have their selfish desires propelling them.
The unity of the Spirit is quite different. Have you experienced this kind of unity? We read about it earlier when those early Christians were actually selling their property to care for everyone in need. This picture is quite different than the world. They made sacrifices to help others. Ephesians 4:4, the very next verse, states “There is one body and one Spirit.” When He is working in each individual, each individual is seeking to accomplish His purpose. The unity then comes when we all focus on His will and purpose. This requires, of course, each individual to submit his own will to the Lord. When this is done, the Spirit can and will mightily work.
Application: Have you ever prayed for renewal? Have you ever sung a song about revival? When we do, we are basically asking God to remove those things that keep God’s people from being filled with the Spirit. When a few people are moved by God, it is easier to be touched by the work of the Holy Spirit in our own lives. This is what we all need to yearn for even if it takes our whole being. The good thing is that we largely need to focus on our own individual lives. We do not need to demand change in others. As the song “Cleanse Me (Search me O God)” goes, ‘Send a revival, start the work in me.’
GOD BLESS YOU.