In Ephesians 4:2-3—With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.—Paul gives us four character traits of Christ himself (Gal. 5:22-23) that will maintain unity among Believers. First, there is love.
Second, there is peace (Greek, eirene) “a state of tranquility; the opposite of rage and war.” This word is related to the Hebrew word shalom, a common Hebrew greeting. This word, however, means not so much the opposite of war but of any disturbance in the tranquility of God’s people. Because we are in Christ, first there is tranquility and harmony between God and man (Eph. 1:2), and second, there is tranquility and harmony between Jew and Gentile (2:14). We now see the third step in the progression: there is, and must continue to be, tranquility between all believers because of Christ. This is not just the opposite of war, not just the opposite of “going at one another,” not just the opposite of suppressing our seething resentment of someone else, rather a tranquility, a freedom from any agitation or turmoil. We must allow the Holy Spirit to maintain this tranquility, because it is the bond that holds us together.
This challenges us that a lack of peace in the Body is sin, no matter what the reason. A vivid example of this appears in Philippians 4:2-3: “I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord. And I entreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers.” The only problem in the Philippian church was a single unnamed conflict between two women, but that one conflict threatened to do serious damage. Paul obviously doesn’t tell us what the problem was because it didn’t matter. Whether one woman was right and the other wrong didn’t matter either. Both were wrong because they were causing disunity in the body.
Third, there is longsuffering. The Greek here is makrothumia, a compound word from makro, meaning “long,” and thumos, meaning “temper.” The idea, then, is simple; we are to be long-tempered in contrast to short-tempered, to suffer long instead of being hasty to anger and vengeance. This is one of the social characteristics of “the fruit of the spirit” because this is how we are to react to people and how we are to treat them. To maintain unity, we will set aside “self,” set aside our own needs, and be willing to suffer last place instead of first place, even to look like we’re wrong if it will maintain unity. Again, we’re not taking about doctrinal issues here—that is the point in the next passage (4:4-6)—rather we are speaking here of things that don’t matter, the little things of personality and human interaction. What a marvelous testimony it is to be longsuffering, to have the ability to be long‑tempered. “Love suffers long” (1 Cor. 13:4) and we must be “swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath” (James 1:19).
Commentator William Barclay offers a homey illustration. Have you ever seen a puppy and a large dog together? The puppy barks that high pitch puppy yap, pesters the big dog, and even nips him. But while the big dog could snap the puppy’s neck with one bite and a shake, he just bears it with dignity. Perhaps you’ve even seen the big dog look up at you with an expression that says, “Look what I have to put up with.” That is longsuffering, the attitude that bears attack, assault, affront, and abuse without bitterness or complaint. Likewise, as God is longsuffering toward us (II Pet. 3:9), we are to be longsuffering with others. We’ll conclude this maintaining of unity next time.