Best of Reflections:Why Make Such a Big Deal of Humility, Gentleness, Patience, and Forbearance? (2)
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
In my last post, I suggested that Paul begins to explain how we live out our calling with such down-to-earth realities (humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance) because he knows how much these are needed in everyday Christian community. Paul addresses the real-life needs and challenges of real-life Christians and churches because he speaks out of his pastoral experience.
But this explanation goes only so far. It doesn't say why humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance matter enough to be put at the top of the list. Yes, we really struggle with these things. But why is this struggle so important as to get first place in Paul's exposition of the Christian life?
The answer to this question lies, I believe, in the theology of Ephesians 1-3, especially chapter 2. As you may recall, chapter 1 reveals God's plan for the cosmos: to unite all things in Christ. Chapter 2 shows that God is doing this both through believers saved by grace and through the one body of God's people, the church. The unity of the church is an essential piece in God's cosmic puzzle. Church unity not only allows God's saving and redeeming work to be spread throughout the world, but also serves as a demonstration that God's plan is working (3:10).
But, when Paul speaks of church unity, he's not envisioning some fuzzy, ethereal, other-worldly connection of individual Christians. Rather, he is thinking of the theological reality made flesh in real, live Christian communities. Church unity isn't just an ideal or a principle. Rather, it's a day-to-day, matter-of-fact reality that needs to be embodied in actual Christian assemblies.
This kind of unity will be realized if and only if Christians live out their calling with humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance. Lack of humility will fracture Christian community, as will harshness, impatience, and demanding that others live by our own personal preferences. So, Paul begins with what is required for Christian unity because he places such a high value on embodied unity among actual Christians.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you value the unity of your church? If so, why? If not, why not? In what ways do you contribute to the unity of your church? In what ways might your behavior lead to disunity?
PRAYER: Gracious God, it's easy to pay lip service to church unity. It's easy to hold it up as an ideal or to see unity as realized through grandiose declarations and massive convocations. All of this is well and good. But, in Ephesians 4, we are reminded that church unity is a matter of daily living. It requires the very un-grandiose and un-massive commitment to humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance.
Help me, Lord, to contribute to the unity of your church through my everyday behavior. May I truly be humble and gentle. May I exercise patience with my brothers and sisters in Christ, even as they return the favor. Help me to put up with them as they put up with me, so that our fellowship might reflect the theological reality of which it is a primary expression. May I help your people to be truly one, so that we might demonstrate to the world the effectiveness of your plan to unite all things through Christ and through his church. Amen.