In Ephesians 3 Paul revealed the mystery that God had hidden for all of history up to that point, and had chosen to reveal through him, in order that the gospel could reach around the globe to all mankind.
God was doing something new, something unheard of in all of human history. He was reaching out to all people, regardless of race or gender, and choosing to dwell in them.
If God dwells in us, we are His temple – His chosen dwelling place, the church.
Collectively, we are all stones fitted into one great Temple, with Jesus Christ being the stone that joins the two walls of “Jew” and “Gentile” together, making us one.
Thus, as Christians, we are not a lone island. We are part of something far greater than ourselves – the global body of Christ.
And in chapter 4, Paul begins to urge us on to greater Christian maturity.
If we are going to add value to the body, we need to have appropriate Christian conduct.
Now, Paul already balances out this call to maturity with a reminder in Ephesians 3 that we are not saved by our good conduct, we are saved by grace. But because of our love and honor for Christ, we choose to live according to the commands and precepts of Scripture.
Jesus said in John 14:15 “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”
Therefore, Paul opens Ephesians 4 with this call to maturity:
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3
If we take this call word-for-word, we get an incredible message!
- Walk – paripateo – our conduct
- Worthy – axios – appropriate
- Call (in the King James it uses the word “vocation”) – klesis – invitation
- Called – kaleo – the call you heard
What was the invitation we heard? Salvation!
Paul is saying, “I encourage you to conduct yourself in a manner appropriate to your salvation in Christ.”
You were saved by grace, but that is only the first step of a journey called the Christian walk that we must travel until Christ returns or we pass from this life to the next.
Paul is now encouraging us to make that journey count, because we are not islands to ourselves. We are part of a global body and our behavior affects the rest of the body.
In 2009, following two miscarriages back-to-back, I had some testing done to check my hormone levels. We discovered that due to chronic stress in my body, my adrenal glands had been overworked and my cortisol levels were depleted.
The physical body works as one unit, not as individual parts. If even one small part of your body stops working properly, the rest of the body is forced to compensate. Its amazing how much pressure the rest of your body faces, just because one small part of your body ceases to work the way it was designed to work.
A lot of people don’t even know they have adrenal glands. I had never given them any thought at all until my entire body, physically and psychologically, began to break down.
My digestive system didn’t function properly, my sympathetic nervous system didn’t function properly, my brain didn’t react quickly, everything had to pull back because of this one hormone level that wasn’t secreting to the quantity my body required.
It is the same for the body of Christ!
You may think that taking into consideration the global body, or even your local body, that this one decision you make won’t really matter; that it doesn’t affect anyone else but you.
But it matters.
When one member ceases to conduct themselves appropriate to their salvation, the entire body is forced to compensate for their failure to function properly.
Then Paul goes on to share what this conduct should look like:
Lowliness – Tapeinophrosyne – Humility of the mind.
I love how this Greek word doesn’t just translate “humility”, but that it literally means humility of the mind. A lot of people give the impression that they are humble, until you really get to know them; and then you discover that deep inside they are really preoccupied with themselves.
A “lowly” person is someone who is not at all concerned with themselves. It’s not that they don’t take care of themselves, it’s that they are not preoccupied at all with what other people think of them.
This isn’t just a behavior, it is their character. Humility has so permeated them, that even their private thoughts are humble!
Gentleness – Praotes – Mildness
If there is anything that doesn’t describe today’s culture, it is “mild”. This culture has become reactive, volatile, vulgar, and extremely offended at everything. Today’s young people are wholly incapable of grappling with those who have opposing opinions, and it seems that all of society is a ticking time bomb of anger and hate.
Social media and news and blog comments are filled with vicious words, name-calling, accusations, and the worst kind of vulgarity spewed at those whose views are misunderstood or are at opposition to the majority. Cyber bullying is so persistent and unrelenting that young people are convinced that their lives have been unalterably destroyed and there is no hope for them, no matter where they move or how far they pull back from social media.
Sadly, this kind of behavior describes a lot of Christians.
I am often perplexed when I visit Christian news sites and read the comments. Hateful and accusatory words are aimed at the writer and those commenting.
I, myself, have been the recipient of such comments; and I will be honest and say that at times I have found them very hurtful.
This kind of reaction is not appropriate for the body of Christ! Jesus, Himself said that the words we say reveal what is in our heart. When we mock others and name-call, it reveals that we have already murdered that person in our heart – and to God, physical murder and murder of the heart are all one and the same.
We are called to have a mild demeanor.
This doesn’t mean passive. We still have to be direct and deal decisively with sin, but we deal with sin, we don’t destroy a person’s character.
Longsuffering – Makrothymia – Patience, steadfastness
If we function as one body, locally and globally, we’re in this for the long-haul. We can’t just write each other off because we disagree or one member stops functioning as they should.
The body needs each member; and as the body of Christ, we need to remember that we are called to persevere with one another, even when it’s not easy.
Bearing with one another in love – Anecho – To hold up, to sustain
Love. The word in this verse is Agape. We all know what agape love is, and we find the definition for agape love in 1 Corinthians 13. It’s a kind of love that only God can give, it is not part of our human nature.
Paul is saying here that with this love that we receive from God, we need to be willing to hold each other up, endure with one another, sustain one another. We all grow weak at times, and we need each other in those moments.
Even strong believers have moments of weakness. If in those moments the body becomes a pack of vultures, feeding on the weak member, gossiping about the weak member, or pointing fingers of judgement at them, then the body has become sick and diseased.
Jesus said that all will know that we are His disciples by the love we have for one another.
Our conduct needs to be defined by agape love!
Endeavoring to keep the unity – Henotes – Oneness, unanimity
Unity doesn’t mean oneness of opinion.
Evangelical Christianity comes in many flavors and nuances of theology. We have one gospel and only one interpretation of that gospel.
From that point, there are many denominations that differ on the work of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit and their function in the body – or if they even function at all in the body today.
Even within the walls of a local church, there are differing opinions on many things. One believer may have a conviction that it is wrong to allow your children to watch Disney movies while another believer sees nothing wrong with it at all.
Paul isn’t advocating that we all have the exact same personal convictions and beliefs.
Unity isn’t conformity of behavior, it is our ability to come together as one unit, each functioning properly in our individual role appropriately, so that the body of Christ is able to work as it should.
A machine has many parts. Each part looks completely different and has its own unique purpose. Each part is essential to that machine and the machine cannot work properly without it.
This is the body of Christ.
We will have differing opinions, convictions, and even understanding concerning Scripture.
If we agree on the essentials of the gospel – which are non-negotiable, uncompromising, and unalterable in our understanding of them – then we can work together in unity.
We are called to work together in unity.
Our behavior matters.
We cannot live just for ourselves because we are part of Christ’s body and what we do, what we say, and the decisions we make affect the whole body.
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