A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 4:2. 1). Christian unity depends on the charity of our conduct.
Paul immediately portrays the life worthy of our calling as being characterized by five qualities – lowliness, meekness, patience, mutual forbearance and love. He has prayed to God that we may be ‘rooted and grounded in love’ (3:17); now he addresses his appeal to us to see to it that we live a life of love. This is where he begins, and this is also where we should begin. Too many start with structures (and structures of some kind are indispensable), but the apostle starts with moral qualities. Certainly, in the quest for Christian unity, if we have to choose, we must say that the moral is more important than the structural.
*Lowliness* was much despised in the ancient world. The Greeks never used their word for humility (*tapeinotes*) in a context of approval, still less of admiration. Instead they meant by it an abject, servile, subservient attitude, ‘the crouching submissiveness of a slave’. Not till Jesus Christ came was a true humility recognized. For he humbled himself. And only he among the world’s religious and ethical teachers has set before us as our model a little child.
Moreover, the word Paul uses here is *tapeinophrosyne*, which means ‘lowliness of mind’, the humble recognition of the worth and value of other people, the humble mind which was in Christ and led him to empty himself and become a servant (Phil.2:3-8, the same noun being used in verse 3).
Now humility is essential to unity. Pride lurks behind all discord, while the greatest single secret of concord is humility. It is not difficult to prove this in experience. The people we immediately, instinctively like, and find it easy to get on with, are the people who give us the respect we consider we deserve, while the people we immediately, instinctively dislike are those who treat us like dirt. In other words, personal vanity is a key factor in all our relationships. If, however, instead of manoeuvring for the respect of others (which is pride) we give them our respect by recognizing their intrinsic God-given worth (which is humility), we shall be promoting harmony in God’s new society.
*Meekness (praotes*) was warmly applauded by Aristotle. Because he hated extremes and loved the ‘the golden mean’, he saw in *praotes* the quality of moderation, ‘the mean between being too angry and never being angry at all’. The word was also used of domesticated animals. So ‘meekness’ is not a synonym for ‘weakness’. On the contrary, it is the gentleness of the strong, whose strength is under control. It is the quality of a strong personality who is nevertheless master of himself and the servant of others. Meekness is ‘the absence of the disposition to assert personal rights, either in the presence of God or of men’. It is particularly appropriate in pastors who should also use their authority only in a spirit of gentleness (1 Cor.4:21; 2 Tim.2:25)
‘Lowliness’ and ‘meekness’ form a natural couple. For ‘the meek man thinks as little of his personal claims, as the humble man of his personal merits’. They are found together in perfect balance in the character of our Lord Jesus who described himself as ‘gentle and lowly in heart’ (Mt.11:29 (*praos…kai tapeinos*); cf. 2 Cor.10:1)
The third and fourth qualities also form a natural pair, for *patience (makrothymia*) is long-suffering towards aggravating people, such as God in Christ has shown towards us (e.g. Rom.2:4; 1 Tim.1:16), while *forbearing one another* speaks of that mutual tolerance without which no group of human beings can live together in peace. *Love* is the final quality, which embraces the preceding four, and is the crown and sum of all virtues. Since to love is constructively to seek the welfare of others and the good of the community, its ‘binding’ properties are celebrated in Colossians 3:14.
Here, then, are five foundation stones of Christian unity. Where these are absent no external structure of unity can stand. But when this strong base has been laid, then there is good hope that a visible unity can be built. We may be quite sure that no unity is pleasing to God which is not the child of charity.
Tomorrow: Ephesians 4:3-6. 2). Christian unity arises from the unity of our God.