One in Spirit
“… with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:2-3).- Ephesians 4:2-3
Understanding what it means to “walk in a manner worthy” of our calling (Eph. 4:1) is not altogether intuitive for us because our remaining sin continues to affect our hearts and minds (1 John 1:8). Thankfully, Paul spends much of the rest of Ephesians explaining more concretely the responsibilities that we have as those who have been granted salvation by the grace of God alone.
In today’s passage, the apostle lists humility, gentleness, and patience as characteristic of those who live in line with the Lord’s calling. These are all qualities necessary to preserve the unity of the church that Christ established and strengthens by His Spirit (Eph. 2:11–22). Without humility, for example, our boasting will turn people off, hindering our ability to form relationships of truth and love, which are integral to Christian unity. Humility is not low self-esteem or a refusal to acknowledge one’s talents; rather, it is a sober self-assessment in which we do not think of ourselves more highly than we ought and yet realize what we can contribute to the advance of the kingdom (Rom. 12:3–8).
According to Charles Hodge, gentleness (or “meekness” as other translations render the Greek), “is that unresisting, uncomplaining disposition of mind which enables us to bear other people’s faults without irritation or resentment.” Meekness, or gentleness, is not weakness, for our Lord possesses this quality and He was bold and strong enough to confront sin when it was necessary (Matt. 11:29; 21:12–17). Instead, gentleness is the willingness to bear with the minor faults and annoying habits of others, understanding that we are all at various maturity levels in the faith and that we must tolerate one another as we learn and grow (Col. 3:12–13). Serious sin is to be confronted, but we are not to be confrontational, and we must refuse to pick unnecessary fights over trivial matters.
Gentle people, of course, show patience, so it makes sense also for Paul to mention it in Ephesians 4:2. In any case, the unity that it and these other qualities foster is not merely an invisible unity, though the invisible unity we share with other believers in the Spirit is essential. Paul is also referring to the visible unity grounded in truth and love that, according to Jesus, must be our goal (John 17:20–26).
We cannot sacrifice truth for the sake of a superficial visible unity, which is an error evident in the liberal arm of the ecumenical movement. Still, we should not think that all efforts at visible church unity represent liberalism, for the splintering of the church into many denominations makes it hard for the world to see the love of Christ among believers. Let us work for visible unity where possible, bearing with one another in patience and love.
Passages for Further Study
2 Corinthians 10