“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love…”
(Ephesians 4:1-2 ESV)
I have always loved this passage.
For a long time, I missed the most important thing about this verse: its motivation–––what produces the attitudes of humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness. They are great qualities, but how can they be truly produced in the life of the believer?
For the longest time I believed that they were more-or-less emotions to muster up, or more-moral personas, dispositions, or attitudes to emulate. And while this verse does allude to the rebirth’s new attitudes, actions, and fruit, we must be careful to not emphasize the fruit (results) at the neglect of the roots and soil (motivation). Otherwise, we won’t have any real fruit to begin with. Indeed, if we are unaware of the roots, then we surely won’t have any idea of what real fruit looks like either—we will therefore gain false, trite, or empty understandings and representations of humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness.
With that being said, let’s look at the motivation behind these verses, the roots for these fruits—or for you literalists—the real, foundational reasons that will organically produce the genuine attitudes of humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness, and not cheap, vain attempts at veneered Christian expressions.
Like anything we read—especially the Bible—we should ask the questions Why? and How? But before we go into a quick analysis of asking why? and how? we attain these fruits, we actually find the answer to the why? of Paul’s urges before this passage. In 4:1, Paul says, “I therefore urge you to walk [this way]” (Aerosmith paraphrase). Therefore? Ultimately, Paul is casting the imperatives of his urges in light of what he just talked about in chapters 1-3. The opening three chapters focus largely on Christ’s work of salvation and the following new identity for the one who believes. Thus, in a summarized explanation of chapters 1-3, Paul says, “in light of this remarkable feat of Christ for you and the new identity with which you have been graciously given, LIVE IN LIGHT OF THIS”. It is important to realize that Paul’s imperatives are enshrouded in a greater indicative. What Christ has done and, accordingly, the new identity of the believer as a child of God, will be the fuel and foundation and reason for carrying out these imperatives to truly be and to live a certain way.
Now that we have the context for this passage—or how chapter 1-3 frames and enriches the understanding of 4:1-2—let’s address the fruit.
“Be completely humble”
Why be completely humble? Because Christ has done it all.
He alone gave us His position of permanent and unconditional favor, approval, acceptance, and love in the eyes of God (Eph 2:1-9, Rom. 8:35-38). We were completely dead in our sins, but God completely saved us–our work is absent in the equation. We can, thus, only boast in Him and, thus, only be humble. There is no room for us to boast in anything we have done. All credit is due Him. We had absolutely no part. Therefore, there is no reason or motivation for self-righteousness (what we have done) nor shame or despair (what we feel like we haven’t done but should’ve done).
You are forever loved not because of anything you have done or will do, but because of everything He did. It is finished and nothing can change that. Not circumstances, not people, not your sin, not your goodness. Now live in light of it. And it’ll be a surprise if genuine humility doesn’t poke through the thin, cheap masks of humility from before. It did for me.
“Be completely gentle”
Why? Because no matter what charges people make against us or whatever circumstances happen, it cannot threaten the steadfast eternal inheritance of all that is bought for us in Christ.
Therefore, there is no reason to be defensive or angry when people threaten any aspect of your identity, reputation, or face. Because our identity is anchored eternally as an heir with Christ and forever saved by grace, regardless of what people say and regardless of what happens in life, nothing can ever change that or ever rival its value.
If the gospel is most weighty in our life—as it indeed should since it constitutes eternal proportions with the Ultimate of the universe—then trying, temporary events or sinful peon’s words will even be a challenge or threat to us. In light of what the gospel teaches, there is no reason to be defensive, threatened, angry, etc—but only gentle and gentle with them. Those temporary hardships can’t phase us because whatever happens, it can’t steal from, jeopardize, or rival what Christ has graciously secured for us (permanent forgiveness, approval, acceptance, love, hope, sonship, provision, eternity).
Gentleness is an unphased-ness without pride, being completely content in eternal, invaluable grace. We no longer have to feel the need to ‘muster up’ a gentle complexion or sappy-sweet voice, all while we ‘white-knuckle’ it underneath, trying to maintain the appearance of Christian gentleness in the midst of insults, frustrations, or trying events. I know I’ve been there. Rather, God’s unconditional grace and the eternity it rewards gives us deep, strong contentedness, which expresses itself in gentleness in all circumstances. Indeed, because of what the gospel entails, there is no reason to not be content. In Christ, all that you need for existential salvation, you already have—because of sheer grace—and it can never be taken away. There is no reason to not be gentle.
“Be patient and bear with one another in love”
Why? Because God was patient and dealt with us in love even when we lived in direct rebellion against Him. In fact, when we were at our worst and full deserving of wrath, God poured His wrath on Jesus instead so that our sins could be atoned for (Rom 5:8). Therefore, if God was patient with us, dealt with us in underserved love, and forgave us in light of our cosmic treason, how much more then should we extend forgiveness to others? In fact, in light of our sin against a Holy God and how He pardoned us, it should be easier to offer forgiveness to others because their trespass against us doesn’t come close to comparing to the cosmic treason our sin committed against God. A sin against another sinner is one thing. A sin against the Holy Sovereign of the Universe is another. Therefore, because we have been forgiven of our greatest crime, we should be able to forgive even the worst things people have done to us, because their trespasses against us don’t nearly compare to the trespasses we committed against God, which were forgiven with love. In other words, if our cosmic sin was pardoned, how much more should be eagerly willing to forgive any and all wrongs that have been towards us, which pale in comparison to degree?
Think about the parable Jesus told regarding the man who owed an incalculable debt to a ruler—this man and his long lineage to follow would have to work to pay off this debt. Yet, the ruler mercifully, without reason, gave him full pardon. Beyond astounded, he thanked the ruler incessantly and left the courtroom freed. However, the story ends on a quick, ironic change of tone when the just-freed man crosses paths with a poor beggar who owes him a couple pennies and strangles him angrily, demanding for the immediate payback. Not surprisingly, after Jesus told the story, the audience was furiously bewildered. Surely, they cried, “how can someone who has been forgiven an incredible, incalculable debt immediately strangle a poor man over a couple of pennies? It doesn’t make any sense!” And I’m sure Jesus responded with a modern day answer of something along the lines of “that’s the point”. Similarly, when the debt of our sin entails drastic, eternal punishment—yet we were fully, lovingly forgiven—how can we not forgive other people’s sin against us, which is infinitesimally insignificant in comparison? Those who realize they have been forgiven much will, in fact, forgive much (Luke 7:47).
Being unconditionally forgiven by God empowers Christians with the motivation for forgiving others, bearing patiently with them in love—unconditionally.
Indeed, “be completely humble and gentle, with patience, bearing with one another in love” is not an empty, groundless command. It follows the preceding good news that Christ has accomplished everything for sinners that sinners could have never accomplished for themselves.
Hopefully this article––––if you got through it––––was helpful in understanding how the gospel is present in these commands, and that it is not only the grounds and reasons for the commands, but it is also the fuel for them. The good news makes us into humble, gentle, patient, and forgiving people. The more we enjoy the good news, the more we demonstrate to others what Jesus has demonstrated to us—in a way that is not coerced or obliged, but organic–just like Jesus. Yet, conversely, when the gospel is divorced from these imperatives, we turn into legalistic and fake people—trying to be good without a reason to be ‘good’, which is probably inwardly worse than not trying all along.
Therefore, the question What Would Jesus Do? is answered in What Has Jesus Done?