Christian vs. Christian: Ephesians 4:2

This week I am continuing with my series of posts on Christian behavior toward other Christians (please read my introductory post for why I am doing this). I have decided to continue with Ephesians 4:2 this week. Here is the Holman Christian Standard translation of Ephesians 4:1-3:

1 I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received,
2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting [tolerating] one another in love [agapaō],
3 diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds [us].

The Apostle Paul in this passage is completely consistent with what Christ said the night before he went to the cross (see Christian Vs Christian: John 13:34-35). In fact I believe that Christ on the night He was betrayed set the standard for how we are to treat each other as Christians. The Apostle Paul is just restating what we should already know.

The one thing that I very much want to emphasize is that the love [agapaō] we are commanded to have towards other believers is not conditioned on anything. In the  verses that follow, the Apostle Paul goes on to say that we have “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” but agreeing on this is not the condition for loving other believers. It is the reason that we should show love not the condition for showing love.

You should also notice that we are to accept/tolerate/endure other Christians. I don’t particularly care for the word “accept” in this passage because it makes it sound like we have to accept wrong doctrine. What we are commanded to do here is to tolerate or endure other believers even if they are messed up, or obnoxious, or some other characteristic that makes us queasy around them. Nowhere are we commanded to tolerate bad doctrine but there is going to be bad doctrine advocated by other believers and we have to love [agapaō] them anyway. This is impossible apart from God’s help and provision for us.

Jeremy Thomas, Pastor of Fredericksburg Bible Church, taught the Book of Ephesians and his write-up on this verse is great (see here for his lesson notes on Ephesians). I am going to quote the section on Ephesians 4:2 but I encourage any readers to go and read the complete set of notes for yourself. It’s good stuff!

Here is Pastor Thomas:

Greek Text 4:2 meta (prep) pases (adj GSF) tapeinophrosunes (noun GSF) kai (conj) prautetos (noun GSF), meta (conj) makrothumias (noun GSF), anekomenoi (PMPart NPM) allelon (pronoun GSM) en (prep) agape (noun DSF),

Translation 4:2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, enduring one another in love,

meta pases tapeinophrosunes kai prautetos, “with all humility and gentleness,”. In this verse Paul uses two prepositional phrases. Both begin with the preposition with. He’s describing the quality of walk and rather than using imperative verbs he uses prepositional phrases which function like imperatives. He uses the preposition meta which is almost identical to the preposition sun but sun is more related to intimate personal communion (Col. 3:4) and meta with close association or attendant circumstances (1 Thess. 3:13). In other words, our walk should be characterized by humility and gentleness. These words have English meanings that do not necessarily correspond to what Paul intended to communicate so these word studies are helpful. We can’t read our English understanding into these words or we’ll get confused.

Humility was not considered a virtue in the ancient world. In fact, this word did not even exist before NT times. Epictetus said that humility was “first among the qualities not to be commended.”[i] But Paul mentions humility first of all. Humility stands in contrast to pride. Humility produces unity, pride produces division. Why does Paul mention humility first in his list? Probably to emphasize unity. Humility engenders unity and the Church was formed because Our Lord displayed humility by going to the cross (Eph. 2:16; Phil. 2:5-8). (Word Picture – Obedience to Point of Death)

Philippians 2:5-8 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,  6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,  7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

There can be no Church apart from the cross of Christ and their can be no cross of Christ apart from Christ’s humbling Himself. Therefore, Paul mentions humility first of all because humility engenders unity. Christ is the supreme example of humility. He demonstrated humility by being obedient. We also demonstrate humility by being obedient. Obedience to a higher authority produces harmony and unity. When we disobey we demonstrate pride which causes strife and division.


1. Supreme example of humility is Christ
2. Humility is demonstrated by obedience to one’s authorities
3. Humility results in harmony and unity

* The opposite of humility is pride

1. Supreme example of pride is Satan
2. Pride is demonstrated by disobedience to one’s authorities (it says “I know better than my authorities”)
3. Pride results in strife and division

Secondly, Paul lists gentleness (Gk. prautes). Gentleness is listed as a fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5:23. However, gentleness is not to be confused with weakness. This is a common fallacy. Again, the supreme example of gentleness is Jesus. Jesus was both gentle and humble in heart (Matt. 11:29) but He was not weak. (Word Picture – Jesus Cleansing His Father’s House) Jesus illustrated this when He drove the moneychangers out of His Father’s House in John 2:13-16. The tables that Jesus overturned often weighed more than 1,000 pounds. But notice in John 2:16 that when He comes to the doves he tells them to take them away. So, Jesus had self-control in the situation. I think many Christians have wondered about this incident and how we can be angry and not sin. We are told in Ephesians 4:26 that in our anger do not sin. Well, this incident of cleansing His Father’s house is a prime example of gentleness. You say what, “how can that incident teach gentleness”. Indeed I would say that event is probably the best illustration of gentleness in the Bible. Biblically, gentleness does not mean weakness but rather self-control. But we cannot control ourselves so it is better to say that when we are gentle we are God-controlled. Barclay states it this way, “The man who is praus [i.e. gentle] is the man who is always angry at the right time and never angry at the wrong time”[ii] (brackets mine). “Only the person who is controlled by the Spirit of God can truly be gentle—angry at the right time and never angry at the wrong time.” [iii] Jesus displayed this perfectly when He cleansed the temple. He was angry because of what they had turned His Father’s house into—a den of thieves. He was angry at the right time! But he also displayed self-control when He came to the doves. Jesus was showing us how to be gentle.

meta makrothumias, “with patience”. The third characteristic of a believer walking consistently with his calling is patience (Gk. makrothumia). Patience is also a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). patience is long-suffering or endurance that does not abandon hope. God is the supreme example of patience (Rom. 2:4; 9:22). (Word Picture – Delay and Shortness of Tribulation) God has put up and put up with man’s ethical rebellion against God and yet God has delayed and delayed pouring out His vengeful wrath upon them. The fact that the Tribulation has yet to come and the fact that the Tribulation is relatively short (7 years) demonstrates the patience of God. The Christian walk is to be characterized by patience. When a Christian is wronged by another Christian we are to withhold our vengeance/revenge by being patient with them, hoping, like God, that they will come to repentance (2 Pt. 3:9). In light of the context here, Jew and Gentile in one body, those who were formerly hostile to one another, you can see how important patience would be for the Ephesian believers. It is a necessary component of a believer in the body of Christ. patience is therefore cautious endurance through a situation that does not abandon hope.

anekomenoi allelon en agape, “enduring one another in love,”. Paul just used two prepositional phrases (with….with…) and now he adds to participial phrases (showing….being…). These two participles are added to show us how to walk in humility, gentleness, and patience. The NASB translates this showing tolerance and A.T. Robertson says this is a direct middle meaning that we should hold ourselves back from one another. In other words we should tolerate differences between believers. But it might be better translated as enduring one another. It’s closely related to being patient. We might say we should “put up with one another for a long time”. How are we to put up with other believers? Paul says we are to put up with one another in love (Gk. en agape). The word for love here is agape and means that we unconditionally seek the will of God for the one loved, that is always the highest good. It’s important that Paul adds in love as the way in which we are to put up with one another when we have differences. If Paul did not add the words in love then we could endure one another but with resentment. But enduring one another with resentment is not an option for the Christian who lives in conformity to his calling.

In conclusion of v. 2, though there was positional unity between Jewish and Gentile believers in one body, the Church, there was also tension in the real world. Differences between Jewish and Gentile believers existed then as they do today (e.g. the Messianic Congregation Movement). Therefore, Paul explains what our Christian walk should look like. It should be exemplified by humility, gentleness, patience, and endurance in love so that resentment does not boil. These qualities can only be accomplished by the power of the Spirit. This is why Paul prayed that God would strengthen our inner man through the Holy Spirit in 3:16. We must be strengthened individually and corporately (2:22) if we are to display these qualities.

[i] Hoehner, Harold, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 506.

[ii] Barclay, William, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1958), 162.

[iii] Hoehner, Harold, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 507.

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