Summary: The body of Christ is being built up until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
We come today to the core issue of the letter: If we're to fulfil our destiny as a church, if we're to demonstrate the manifold wisdom of God then we must be united in heart and mind.
Here in ch 4, Paul begins to outline how being the new people of God is to be worked out in the down-to-earth, concrete realities of life. As we'll see over the next few weeks, the new society that God has called us into has two major characteristics. First it's one people, composed of both Jew and Gentile, without distinction, and secondly it's a holy people, set apart to belong to God, and showing by its life, a purity and righteousness that suits the people of God.
So today let's think about the unity of the Church. How does that unity arise and how is it to be maintained?
A. It depends on our Christian character.
What do you need for unity in the Church? Paul lists 5 characteristics of the Christian that unity depends on: humility, gentleness, patience, mutual forbearance, and love.
Not surprisingly he begins his list with humility. In fact the word he uses is actually humility of mind. That is, it's an attitude that recognises the worth and value of other people irrespective of what we think of ourselves. He begins his list here because humility is essential to unity. Pride almost always results in discord. Think about it for a moment. The people we tend to like are the people who show us the respect we think we deserve. The ones we don't like are the ones we sense don't like us. But what if we start by giving them our respect? The result will most probably be that they'll respond to us with the same respect they've received.
Gentleness is a tricky word. It's too easily understood as weakness. The word here could be translated meekness. It's the quality of moderation. It was a word that was used of work animals: of oxen or workhorses; even of battle stallions. It had the idea of strength under control. So it's the characteristic of a strong personality who doesn't let their strength control them, nor uses it to control others. Rather it's a strength that's there to serve others. Paul uses the term in his instructions in 2 Tim 2:24, 25 about how pastors are to deal with those who oppose the gospel: “And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, 25correcting opponents with gentleness.”
Notice that humility and gentleness form a natural pairing. They're how Jesus described himself: “I am gentle and lowly of heart.” (Matt 11:29). The next two characteristics also form a natural pairing. Patience is a longsuffering attitude towards annoying people: the sort of attitude that God has to us I guess, while mutual forbearance is the sort of mutual tolerance without which no group of human beings could ever live together in peace for any length of time.
The final characteristic in his list is love, which is more of an overarching quality that takes in all the other four. I guess it actually enables them to be expressed. Paul will speak more of that at the end of this chapter when he speaks of personal holiness, but for now it's enough to say that it's the controlling force for everything else we do.