"There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, on baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Ephesians 4:4-6).
One of the overarching themes in this passage is Christian unity. We are all a part of one body. The same Spirit dwells in each of us. We were all called to the same hope. There is one Lord whom we all follow by the same faith through the same baptism. Unified through these commonalities, we can create strong bonds with one another.
There are challenges to obtaining and maintaining this unity. Underneath the umbrella of the things which bind us together we all stand as imperfect people. We all have sin. We are all temped to be self-seeking and proud, to feel bitterness, offense, and envy. We are also all different. We differ in our personalities, communication styles, in the way we process information and in many other ways. These imperfections and differences have the potential to undermine the unity found in these commonalities. This may be why Paul starts off this passage by addressing the kind of attitude and approach we should have towards one another. In verses 1-3, we are encouraged
“to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
The church is a "one another" organization. We participate in a congregation not only for ourselves, but also so that we may serve one another. Ephesians 4:7-16explains this clearly. In those verses, Paul compares the church to a body whose members function and work together to inspire growth in one another. But in order for this to happen, we must first see to walking worthy of the calling with which we have been called. According to Paul in Ephesians 4,that requires us to relate to our brethren in a certain way -- with gentleness, lowliness, longsuffering, bearing with one another.
This same theme is found throughout the Bible. Paul wrote similar admonitions in many of his letters: Colossians 3, Romans 12, Romans 13, Romans 14, Romans 15, Galatians 5, Titus 3, and Philippians 2to name a few. Christ's lessons and actions speak to this same subject. From the sermon on the mount to the washing of the apostles' feet the night before the crucifixion, Christ's life is saturated with teachings and examples of how we are to treat and view one another. Even God Himself has laid for us a pattern of works to follow insofar that many of the same characteristics prescribed to us by God, Christ and the apostles are the same characteristics used to describe the nature of God. Longsuffering. Merciful. Kindness. Goodness. Forgiving. Love. In fact, one could argue that our relationships with one another is one of the greatest areas where we can aspire to emulate our Heavenly Father.
God has set forth through commandment, His example, the example of His son and the inspirational writings of the New Testament what our attitudes and actions should be towards one another. The volume of work provides us with evidence of its importance and speaks to the difficulty of the task. If it was easy, why would Paul feel compelled to write about this so many times? Why did Christ have to teach on the subject so often? Why is it that the night before the crucifixion the Messiah took the time to wash the stinky, dirty, calloused feet of His apostles?
Regardless of the difficulty of the task, God wants our hearts and minds to be in a place where we are ready to serve our brethren. In 2Timothy 2:20, 21, Paul wrote,
"But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefor if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel of honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work."
We all have the responsibility to God to be prepared to do His will, and God has given us the responsibility to encourage and strengthen one another. My heart has to be clean concerning my brethren, or I'm not going to be prepared for that work. If my brother has a need that I am either blind to or indifferent towards because of the condition of my heart, that's a problem.
Being longsuffering, forbearing, showing tender mercies, forgiving one another, letting the peace of God rule our hearts. These are all things God expects of us and there are no conditionals. It does not matter what others do. It does not matter how others behave. This is our responsibility. Longsuffering, forgiveness and mercy are often required of us when none is asked for and none is deserved. But where would each of us be without undeserved longsuffering, forgiveness and mercy from our Lord? And how pretentious of us would it be to withhold a similar grace from one another?
As we work together in our congregations let us allow the peace of God to rule in our hearts, forgiving one another, giving preference to one another and, above all, loving one another.