Phil Cox

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Be completely humble and gentle

26th April 2007

Let's look at the first seven verses of Ephesians Chapter 4:

Verse 1
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

Dave Mansell used to say that, when he was saved, God said to him, “Dave, if you’re going to be a Christian, be a proper one”. Paul says much the same when he says “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received”. My own paraphrase of this is:

If you’re a Christian, live like a Christian.

Don’t we owe that much to our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us? He died so that we could be forgiven for our sin. But He also died to sanctify us – to improve our moral character and our lives.

And what does Paul give us as the first characteristic of this new life that we should live?

Verse 2
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Yes, the first attributes we’re called to adopt are extremely difficult for us. Society teaches us the opposite. We’re taught by the world around us to be assertive, but by the Bible to be “completely humble and gentle”.

The word translated “gentle” is sometimes translated as “meek”. Charles Hodge says this:

Meekness is that unresisting, uncomplaining disposition of mind which enables us to bear other people’s faults without irritation or resentment. It is the disposition of which the lamb, dumb before the shearers, is the symbol and which was one of the most wonderful of all the virtues of the Son of God. The most exalted of all beings was the gentlest.

Jesus was meek and gentle, even to the point of death. And we’re called to be the same.

We’re also called to be patient, and to bear with one another. If you’ve been in a church for any length of time, you’ll know how important – and how difficult – this is. Christians are irritating, when we so want them to be perfect. They’re wrong, when we so want them to be right. There’s probably at least one member of your church that drives you nuts. But you’re called to be gentle, meek and patient with them.

Of course, this will bring you to prayer. Only God’s help will enable you to live with the right attitude while sharing life with such imperfect people. Maybe the next most important thing after prayer that can help you in this is: remember that you’re irritating and wrong as well.

Verse 2
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

We preach a gospel of grace. And there’s no question – our salvation is entirely due to God’s grace. And our sanctification is achieved by the Holy Spirit. But God requires us to co-operate with Him in obedience, and to work at it. We’re to “make every effort” – leave no stone unturned, as it were – to keep unity in the church.

The last 2000 years have shown that we’re not very good at it. See all the denominations claiming to find fault with all the others, and to be the best.

My attitude changed the day I realised that everybody is wrong about something. It’s just that I don’t know what I’m wrong about – I only know what you’re wrong about. And my denomination doesn’t know what it’s wrong about – it only knows what the other denominations are wrong about. After all, if we knew what we were wrong about, we’d change our minds! Go on, prove me wrong; show me that you and your denominational leaders are perfect!

And if you catch yourself saying “no, they’re not perfect, but they’re better any anyone else’s” then go back to “be completely humble and meek”. Go directly to “be completely humble and meek”. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200.

In one sense the church is united, whether we like it or not (and we don’t). All Christians are in Christ. All are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. All are one family. But Paul reminds us to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received”. That includes, live like the church is united. He goes on:

Verses 4-6
There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called — one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

That is, we ARE one! There is only one church. There’s only one Holy Spirit, who lives in every Christian. There’s only one hope – the hope of salvation through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, our One Lord. There’s only one true faith (no matter what people may tell you) – faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. There’s only one baptism (although different denominations do it in different ways, some of which are invalid). And there’s only One God! And He’s working in us all.

(You may think you just caught me. “What’s this about some denominations having invalid baptism?” I hear you say. Well, that’s one example of where I’m convinced others are wrong. Remember, unity can’t be based on thinking everybody’s right all the time. If two people disagree, then at least one of them is wrong. Unity must include the understanding that we’re all wrong – including me.)

We are one! So let’s live like it.

And in your own local church, there are all kinds of people. And some of them are not like you at all. They don’t dress like you, think like you, pray like you, speak like you or live like you. But they’re your brothers and sisters in Christ. So love them, and accept them, and “make every effort” to be at peace with them.

And, sometimes, your brothers and sisters in Christ will sin against you. It would be dishonest to pretend that they don't. But we can at least admit to God and to ourselves that we sin against them, too. And we're called to forgive them, even for persistent faults:

Matthew 18:21-22
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"
Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Finally, verse 7 says:

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

When we first came to Christ, our lives were broken down. And what God’s repaired in your brother’s life may be different to what He’s repaired in yours. The insights your brother has received may be different from those that you’ve received. He may have been granted less faith, or fewer spiritual gifts. Some of the areas of his life may be less sanctified than yours, while others may be more so. God treats us all as individuals. We’re not all the same.

If your brother struggles in some area and is letting the side down rather, remember that so are you, in a different area. And love and accept him as a child of God – because he is one.