Ephesians Study 11: Unity of the Spirit

What has come before

You might have noticed in Lesson 9 (and also in Lesson 10), the mention of a shift that occurs in the Ephesian letter. Chapters 1, 2, and 3 focus primarily on important spiritual truths. Paul reminds readers Christians are in Christ, and from that position, we receive every spiritual blessing. In Christ we have salvation, the forgiveness of sin, and reconciliation with God, just to name a few blessings. Those are important truths. Another important truth Paul teaches is that salvation for all (not just Jews and not just Gentiles) wasis, and will continue to be, God’s plan. 

God’s plan of salvation, which he predestined (see Lesson 3), is the mystery that is revealed through Jesus Christ (see Lesson 9). In His plan, God has a role for the church, which is made up of those who by faith live in (and through) Jesus Christ. Beginning in chapter 4, Paul writes about the role of the church, and more specifically the role of those who make up the church-which is us-in God’s plan.

Living in Christ

When you start reading Ephesians 4, be sure to notice how Paul opens this section. There is an important point you might miss if you are not paying attention…

Ephesians 4:1

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

New International Version®, NIV® ©2011 by Biblica, Inc.

Paul reminds us as he starts this section, that he is a prisoner for the Lord. Recall from the background information (Lesson 1), Paul likely wrote Ephesians from a Roman prison. In chapter 4 he is providing directions on living as a Christian in order for the church to fulfill the mission God has planned.

Carlin reminds us in Lesson 9 that Jesus’ teachings were revolutionary for the Jews; the idea that salvation is available to all was a direct contradiction to their history of being God’s chosen people. Not everyone would be pleased with that kind of teaching. That is why Paul was in prison, because there were people that were opposed to the message of the gospel.

In Ephesians 4 Paul writes about the life a Christian should be living, or said another way, about characteristics of a Christian. Living out those characteristics, living in Christ, can be challenging. Paul faced a lot of challenges, some led to him being in prison. BUT, Paul’s point is that regardless of our situation or circumstances (even if we end up in prison), we should live a life worthy of the calling we have received.

You might be wondering at this point, “What does it mean to live a life worthy of the calling I have received?” 

NOTE: Some translations use the wording, “live a life worthy of the calling…” Some translations use the wording, “…walk in a manner worthy of the calling…” In previous lessons the concept of a Christian’s walk has been used. Just keep in mind whether the wording is “live a life worthy” or “walk in a manner worthy,” the overall idea is the same.

…life a life worthy of the calling

Remember from Chapter 3, and earlier lessons, our calling is to be united with Christ, for Gentiles to be united together as heirs with the Jews. God’s plan, through Jesus, is to bring unity to a world that is not united. It is the task of the church to proclaim this message to the world.

That is our calling, to proclaim God’s message of salvation, God’s work of reconciling man to man, and man to God. So what does Paul mean he writes to live a life worthy of that calling?

“Worthy of” means what?

In Lesson 10 Carlin shares some fantastic information about Paul’s prayer for each Christian’s transformation. Paul’s prayer includes a request that those who are in Christ will understand more fully, or have a greater comprehension, of what God has done (and is doing) in our lives.

Ephesians 3:18-19

8…may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

New International Version®, NIV® ©2011 by Biblica, Inc.

When we understand (or perhaps start to understand) how much God did for us, how much God is doing for us, we should naturally want to serve and obey Him out of gratitude. That is part of the transformation (see Lesson 10) that takes place in the life of each Christian.

One author offers the following on the idea of, “to walk worthy…”

Notice that we are to walk worthy because of our calling, not to receive a calling. This pattern follows 2:8-10. We are to do good works because we are saved by grace through faith. Good works and the worthy walk are only possible because we are saved and indwelt by the Holy Spirit! They flow from‒not into. They are the result, not the means (cf. 2:8-9).

Utley, B. (2013). Paul Bound, the Gospel Unbound: Letters from Prison (Colossians, Ephesians and Philemon, then later, Philippians). www.freebiblecommentary.org

To live a life worthy of the calling (or to walk in a manner worthy of the calling) we have received means to live a life that reflects the grace we have received (Ephesians 2:4-10). As Carlin expressed in Lesson 10 (and Lesson 7), righteous action is possible because of our grace-fueled transformation, not because we are following a list of “do’s and don’ts.”

Which brings us to an important question, What does this walk involve? Paul gives us some answers to such a question in chapter 4.

Characteristics of a “worthy life”

Starting in verse 2, Paul gives some explanation of what this “worthy life” should involve.

Ephesians 4:2-3

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

New International Version®, NIV® ©2011 by Biblica, Inc.

In verse 2 Paul identifies four characteristics that should be on display in the life of a Christian. The four characteristics are: (1) humility, (2) gentleness, (3) being patient, and (4) bearing with one another in love. In verse 3 Paul focuses on a critical goal Christians are working toward as they display the various characteristics. The goal we strive for is keeping (or maintaining) the unity of the Spirt.

Be (completely) humble

Think about how you would describe yourself…what characteristics might you list? Or, if other people were to describe you,what do you think they would say?

Being humble is important, but you really cannot tell people you are humble, because by doing so, you are not really being humble (that is what is known as irony…or maybe it is a paradox 😊 ).

What does it mean to be humble?

People may think of humility as a trait that is “negative.” Such a perspective was (and is) quite common, particularly before the time of Jesus. Barclay explains, “In the days before Jesus humility was looked on as a cowering, cringing, servile, ignoble quality; and yet Christianity sets it in the very forefront of the virtues.” Barclay, W. “Commentary on Ephesians 4:4”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”.
https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/ephesians-4.html. 1956-1959.

Jesus changed the way we (should) think about humility. Paul explains the idea in Romans 12…

Romans 12:3

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

New International Version®, NIV® ©2011 by Biblica, Inc.

For the Christian, the concept of humility is based on sober judgment or self-knowledge, being aware or conscious of who we are, in relation to Jesus

It is important to understand that a spirit of humility does not mean I have poor self-esteem. God has made each of us to be a unique person, and gives each of us gifts that we are to use. The key is that I have certain strengths, and you have certain strengths, but I am no better than you, you are no better than me. We are all valued because God loves us, because Christ died for us.

What does humility have to do with living a worthy life?

A humble person is not prideful, does not think s/he is better than others. A humble person understands his/her value, the value of others, is found in God’s love for each person. When I understand that I am not better than others, I am more likely to serve others, to help others, because I recognize they are just like me, lost outside of Christ. And in Christ, we are all one (remember being one, there is a lot more to say about this idea).

Paul connects a spirit of humility with a spirit of gentleness.

Be (completely)…gentle

Think again about how you would describe yourself. Do you think of yourself as gentle?

To be honest, for a lot of guys, the idea of being gentle is contrary to what it means to, “be a man.” A guy is supposed to be strong and tough, whatever that means. If you like action movies or superhero movies, think about the title characters, whether male or female…would you describe a character like the Hulk as gentle? (Okay, I admit that is an extreme example.)

A challenge for us is that the term we read as “gentle” in English, does not necessarily convey the concept that we are meant to understand. One struggle with translating between languages, is that ideas and concepts are not always easily conveyed by single terms. When Paul wrote, be (completely) gentle, there is a lot packed into the single term.

The English word gentle is associated with the Greek term praotes, and it is sometimes translated meek. The term meek is another word that does not have a very positive meaning for some people. The concept though, is really important for us to understand. 

I promise not to go overboard here, but I want to share with you some of the teaching of Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, on the idea of praotes. Aristotle described the concept as a balance between being too angry and never being angry at all. The person who is gentle or meek is one that is moved to speak or act at the suffering of others, or when others are wronged. But a gentle (meek) person does not speak or act out when s/he is insulted or wronged. The idea is associated with humility, and includes being focused on the well-being of others.
Barclay, W. “Commentary on Ephesians 4:4”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/ephesians-4.html. 1956-1959.

A modern explanation for being gentle or meek is, strength under control. If you want a good example of being gentle or meek, look no further than Jesus…

Matthew 11:28-29

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

New International Version®, NIV® ©2011 by Biblica, Inc.

When I think about what it means to be gentle, I think about Jesus on the cross, and the song 10,000 Angels. Consider the wording from the chorus, He could have called 10,000 angels, but He died alone for you and me

Jesus had the strength, the power, to prevent His death. But he did not use that power, He died for our sins because He was more concerned about what was best for us. That is what living a worthy life involves, being concerned about what is best for others, and doing what we can to bring about what is best for others. Which is not easy, and that is why I think the next characteristic Paul includes is patience. (Do you recognize how these characteristics build on each other…)

Be patient…

To be patient means what you probably think it means. If you look up patient in a dictionary, you find explanations like, bearing pains calmly, without compliant; not hasty or impetuous; able or willing to bear. © 2020 Merriam-Webster, Incorporated

If you have ever had a puppy, and tried to train the puppy (for example, not to use the bathroom in the house), you have to be calm, you cannot be hasty. It takes time for a puppy to learn the lesson you are trying to teach. Parents have to be patient with children as they grow and learn. (And children have to be patient with parents as well.)

The times I am impatient, are usually when something is not going my way, or I want something and may not get it, or I do not want to wait for something. Notice the words I put in bold font? Being patient is a characteristic we show, that we live out, in our relationships with others. If I am more focused serving others because I understand we are all one in Christ, when I am more focused on doing what I can to bring about what is best for others, I will have to be calm and willing to bear with others. 

By the way, this concept in the Bible is sometimes translated long suffering, or bearing with others, because let’s be honest, our lives get messy sometimes, and we have to bear with each other. This is possible for each Christian, because these characteristics all work together through love.

Bearing with one another in love…

If you have been to many Bible classes, or listened to many sermons, you very likely have learned that the English word love does not fully convey the concept Paul is writing about. The love that Jesus has for us, that He has demonstrated, is more than just a warm affection friends may share, more than the care and concern family members have for one another, it is not the passion that a husband and wife share.

Christian love is expressed in Greek as agape. An explanation I heard many years ago is that agape is wanting what is best for another, and doing all you can to bring about what is best. Barclay explains agape as, “that quality of mind and heart which compels a Christian never to feel any bitterness, never to feel any desire for revenge, but always to seek the highest good of every man no matter what he may be.”
Barclay, W. “Commentary on Ephesians 4:4”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/ephesians-4.html. 1956-1959.

Live a life worthy of the calling you have received…Paul is teaching us that the priceless blessings we have received (forgiveness of sins, salvation, reconciliation with God) motivate us to live as Christ has shown us; wanting what is best for others, doing what is best for others-notice a theme here, having an other focus-which will require us to be patient and to put the interests of others ahead of our own.

Think about it, if we are all trying to do what is best for others, we are trying to help each other, being patient with each other, we would have unity, we would have peace. If we are living a life worthy of the calling we have received, we are following Paul’s direction in Ephesians 4:3

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Do not miss an important point, we are united in Christ. Remember what we learned from chapter 2, Jesus died to bring us together, to bring us to God. We have unity, our challenge is to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit. We can only reach that goal when we are more concerned about others than we are about ourselves.

Paul has more to say about our unity, about being one in Christ, starting in verse 4, and continues with other instruction on how may keep our unity in Christ. We’ll focus on those ideas in our next lesson.

Time capsule

This has been a bit longer lesson, so thanks for staying with me. Before closing, I want to add what I am going to refer to as a “time capsule.” What I mean is that there are events happening as I have been working on this lesson that can help us understand how absolutely critical it is to live a life worthy of the calling we have received. At this time, in summer of 2020, the necessity for Christians to life a worthy life is very clearly on display all around us. 

As I have been working on this lesson, an event occurred that is challenging our country. A man named George Floyd was killed; George was an African-American man, he was killed by a police officer. Based on the videos I have seen, the police officer choked out George while he was restrained. I do not know what all was said, or what all transpired which led to George’s death. The incident though, has been a very strong reminder that racism and prejudice are still a problem in the United States (really the world, but this happened in the U.S.).

George Floyd’s death has resulted in days of protests, protests against police brutality, protests against racism, protests against fear and hatred. Think about Paul’s instruction, live a life worthy of the calling you have received. If we better understand God’s grace to us, and live in response to that grace, we would be humble and gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love. We would make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Do not kid yourself though, unity and peace do not come through protests and stirring speeches. Unity and peace come through Jesus. What can I do in these troubling times? What can you do in these troubling times? Try to understand more fully what it means to live a life worthy of the calling I have received, that you have received, and then live that life.