“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. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 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. ”
— Ephesians 4:1-6 (NIV)
Paul, a prisoner for the Lord:
Paul is reminded of his captivity in Rome. He refuses to regard himself as a victim either of the Jews or of the Roman emperor; rather, he is the prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ. He insists that his imprisonment is a mark of his apostleship.
The call for unity:
As in his other writings, Paul turns from doctrinal concerns to practical ones. Significantly, the first item on his agenda is the need for Christians to live together in love and unity.
It is as a prisoner for the Lord that Paul makes his appeal. He urges the Ephesians to lead the sort of life that matches their Christian vocation. There must be a balance between one’s profession and one’s practice. So Paul provides a criterion by which possible courses of action can be weighed. Christians will always seek to do what is most in keeping with their calling. By definition this is a calling they have received and not one they have acquired by self-effort. Those who share such a divine call constitute the church, the “called-out company” of those who are in Christ.
The four graces:
The apostle now specifies four graces that evidence this essential proportion between calling and character: humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance. These are all qualities necessary for good relations with others in the Christian community and beyond.
Humble in classical Greek was a derogatory term suggesting low-mindedness and groveling servility. The adjective was redeemed by the gospel to represent a distinctively Christian virtue and stands over against the admired high-mindedness of the heathen. Linked with being humble is being gentle or considerate. The element of restraint is included so that it denotes controlled strength and not lethargic weakness.
Being patient is a characteristic of God himself. It can mean steadfastness in the endurance of suffering but more often it describes reluctance to avenge wrongs. It is to be displayed to other Christians and to everyone else. Christians must put up with each other’s faults and idiosyncracies, knowing that all of us have our own shortcomings and flaws.
Love is a recurring theme in Ephesians. The four graces Paul recommends here are all aspects of love and are exemplified to perfection in Christ.
Determination to overcome difficulty:
The absence of humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance may jeopardize Christian unity. That is why Paul presses his readers to exert all their powers to maintain the oneness in Christ that binds all believers to each other because they are bound by him and to him.
“Make every effort” suggests difficulty and a resolute determination to overcome it. It is assumed that unity between Christians already exists as given in Christ by the Spirit. The “one Spirit” is the agent of unity. Through the Spirit, Christians can attain a profound oneness. Peace is the clasp that ensures that this God-given unity will not fall apart.
“One body” depicts the church as a single visible community. Christians are all members of the same body.
“One Spirit” indwells this body of Christ. By him the body lives and moves. The Spirit is its soul; apart from him it cannot exist. This Spirit who has already spanned this widest of all gulfs will bring together all other diverse groups within the church.
The Holy Spirit is also the guarantor of the “one hope” to which we are called. It is the hope of sharing Christ’s glory at the end of the age, a hope shared by both Jewish and Gentile Christians.
The three expressions of one body, one spirit and one hope may well be intended to convey a single idea, i.e., one Lord in whom we all believe and in whose name we are baptized. Christ is central. He is the sole Head of his body, the church.
“One faith” in the one Lord unites all true believers. Faith here is personal commitment to Christ, though it is not purely subjective. It involves recognition of who he is as Son of God and Savior of humankind.
“One baptism” is the external seal of incorporation into the body of Christ. Baptism is the sacrament of unity. There is one baptism, symbolizing identification with Christ in his death and resurrection so that all Christians become one in Christ Jesus. Baptism provides the evidence that all Christians, without discrimination as to color, race, sex, age, or class, share the grace of Christ.
The last in the ascending scale is the “Father.” He is not associated with other unities like the one Spirit and the one Lord. He stands alone. There is only “one God,” not many as in pagan culture. He is the Father of all. He is the creator of the universe and everything in it. God reigns over all in his transcendent sovereignty.
And over all virtues put on love:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12-13).
Christians are chosen of God, holy (set apart by and for God), and dearly loved by God. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience are great Christian virtues. They point to those qualities of life which, if present in the community of believers, will reduce or eliminate any frictions among the believers. All these virtues are manifestations of love.