Even I can tell when my tires are severely out of balance. The car and even the steering wheel start to shake. Balanced tires are necessary for your car to run smoothly. In much the same way we need balance in our life to live effectively.
As you read Paul’s letters one of the things you will marvel at is his balance. He helps us understand what is true by teaching doctrine clearly and effectively. However, he doesn’t leave us with notebooks of information. He also turns his attention to the practical aspects of how this doctrine should impact the way we live. Belief and practice must be in balance.
The unbalanced believer is either: frequently arguing over some theological construct or they may go to the other extreme and say “I don’t believe in doctrine” (which of course is a doctrinal assertion!). They say the only thing that matters is what “works”. Paul shows us what balance looks like. Let’s tune in as he begins to apply solid doctrine.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Live Lives that Are Worthy
Paul’s lays out an overarching principle: we should live in a way that befits the calling we have received. Let me stop here and remind you that Paul is NOT saying we should live lives that will be worthy (or deserving) of salvation. We will never earn salvation! He says we should live as those who have been granted forgiveness and new life even though we do not deserve it.
The word “worthy” in the Greek is the work AXIOS which is the word from which we derive our word axiom or axiomatic. An axiom is a self-evident truth. Paul is saying that we should like lives that are right, appropriate, and even obvious for someone who is called a child of God.
When Kate Middleton and Prince William were considering marriage I am sure that Ms. Middleton was talked to about the responsibility of living a life of royalty. Every “royal” knows that there is a certain standard of behavior that is required of their position.
It is the same with someone who serves as an Ambassador or even one who serves in the military. These people are reminded that they represent the United States and should live in a way that brings honor to their country. We see the same thing with teachers, Pastors and other public officials . . . position often dictates behavior.
Paul argues that since we are now children of God, we should live in a way that shows others that we have been made new in Christ. People should see the influence of God’s resident Spirit reflected in us by the way we live. Then he gets specific.
Adopt the Right Attitude
External behavior is determined by our internal disposition. Because of this Paul writes, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” He gives us four attitudes or characteristics that should be evidenced in our lives.
The first attitude is humility. In the world humility is often viewed as a negative. Some see it as an indicator of low self-esteem. Christians however, view it differently. Christ told us that God esteems the one who is humble. Jesus is our model of humility.
This is a difficult concept in a society that is constantly telling us to “sell ourselves”; to “look out for number 1 (meaning us)”; and not to let anyone “take advantage of you”. Tim Keller has written an excellent little 48 page booklet on humility titled, “The Freedom of Self-forgetfulness”. He makes a keen observation,
Up until the twentieth century, traditional cultures (and this is still true of most cultures in the world) always believed that too high a view of yourself was the root cause of all the evil in the world. What is the reason for most of the crime and violence in the world? Why are people abused? What are people cruel? Why do people do the bad things they do? Traditionally, the answer was hubris – the Greek word meaning pride or too high a view of yourself. Traditionally, that was the reason given for why people misbehave.
But, in our modern western culture, we have developed an utterly opposite cultural consensus. The basis of contemporary education, the way we treat incarcerated prisoners, the foundation of most modern legislation and the starting point for modern counseling is exactly the opposite of the traditional consensus. Our belief today – and it is deeply rooted in everything – is that people misbehave for lack of self-esteem and because they have too low a view of themselves.
So what is humility? Humility is seeing ourselves as redeemed people. The humble person knows that they cannot earn God’s favor. They know they stand by grace alone. They understand that they are not the center of the universe and therefore everything should not be evaluated by how it affects them.
Keller refers to a great insight made by C.S. Lewis in his masterpiece, “Mere Christianity”
If we were to meet a truly humble person, Lewis says, we would never come away from meeting them thinking they were humble. . . the thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less”.
A humble person therefore is one who no longer feels that it is “all about me”. They serve the Lord, not themselves.
The second character trait or attitude is that of “meekness” or “gentleness”. Once again, we tend to equate meekness with weakness. We think of a meek person as a 90 pound weakling who spends his life just trying to stay out of everyone else’s way. That is not what this word means. It is not about weakness, it is actually about strength under control.
Aristotle saw the term as the mid-point between being too angry and never being angry at all. The meek person is angry at the wrongs and suffering of others but does not get angry when he himself is insulted and treated wrongly.
Maybe it would help to see the opposite of this meekness or gentleness. A person who lacks meekness or gentleness
- Take offense quickly
- Will constantly correct you (demonstrating their superiority)
- Will blast away at you and excuse it saying, “I’m only being honest”
- Will constantly remind you of your failures
- Will be apathetic
A person who has experienced the wonder of God’s underserved and unfathomable grace will seek to extend that same kind of grace to those around them. They will be soft rather than harsh; Loving rather than combative.
Third, we are told we should have an attitude characterized by “patience” or “long-suffering”. Since God has shown such patience to us we should reflect that patience in our dealing with others. Patience means to endure with another.
If you have a family pet and a little child you have probably observed patience in the pet. The child may squeeze and hang on that animal and the animal endures it (at least for awhile). They know instinctively that the child (though annoying) is merely showing love.
Patience is not weakness or even inaction; it is again living your life under control. The patient person is the one who doesn’t give up. They focus on the big picture. They see beyond the present circumstances.
Think about a patient teacher. A patient teacher is the one that doesn’t get discouraged because a child doesn’t understand something immediately. They don’t conclude that the child is a “lost cause”. The patient teacher understands that different people learn best in different ways. They continue to try different things in the belief that once they find a way to connect or reach the child, that child can learn as well as any.
A patient coach is one who doesn’t give all his time to the naturally gifted athletes. He continues to instruct and work with the lesser players because he knows and believes three things: 1) Talented players will not excel unless those who are around them do their job. 2) Some of the most talented players were people who did not start with natural ability. 3) Coaching is really not just about winning games (unless you are a pro), it is about instilling character and discipline in the athletes.
The patient believer sees other people not in terms of their failures but in terms of their potential in Christ. We understand that people become members of God’s family because others patiently prayed, taught, and loved.
The fourth attitude or character trait is love. The word used here is the word “agape”. As you probably know, the Greek used four different words for love. The first three referred to: intimacy, friendship, and familial love. Agape is a unique Christian kind of love. It is the kind of love that God shows to us. William Barclay says,
The real meaning of agapē is unconquerable benevolence. If we regard a person with agapē, it means that nothing that he can do will make us seek anything but his highest good. Though he injure us and insult us, we will never feel anything but kindness towards him. That quite clearly means that this Christian love is not an emotional thing. This agapē is a thing, not only of the emotions, but also of the will.
This is the kind of love God has for us and wants us to extend to others. This kind of love is uncommon and can only be produced by the work of the Spirit in the human heart. It is unnatural just like all the other traits. When we act in these ways we show that we are not controlled by the flesh but by the Spirit.
The finest definition of the love that God wants us to show to each other is found in 1 Corinthians 13,
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Paul calls us to be completely controlled by these four traits. They should be the traits that characterize our life rather than things that show up in rare glimpses of godliness.
You may be asking the question: “How do we develop these traits?” Paul is giving us a directive which would indicate that we need to cultivate and develop these traits in our lives. How do we do this? Let me give you some suggestions:
- The first step, which may surprise you, is to study doctrine. As we come to understand the nature of sin, the concept of grace, and the character of God, we will see ourselves differently. We will understand that we are recipients of an undeserved grace. We will see that our salvation is not dependent on us being “better” than others but is wholly anchored to the love of God in Christ.
- Second, we need to spend much time with God. It is a demonstrable fact that we become like those with whom we spend the most time. The influence is inevitable. If we spend most of our time allowing the secular world to feed us their values through television, movies, music, and news shows, we will adopt the attitudes of those people. If, on the other hand, we give significant time to the things of God and to God’s community of people, we will be influenced more by those values and attitudes. Read the Bible and read other Christian books. Listen to Christian music. Make time to be quiet before the Lord.
- Third, we need to actively cultivate these traits in our lives. Learn about the traits, pray about their growth in your life, daily take a good hard look at your encounters with others, and listen to the counsel of significant mentors and friends. Find some people who are given permission and encouraged to hold you accountable.
All of these traits are somewhat “counter-cultural”. They will take time and effort to develop. However, by God’s grace we can move in the right direction.
The Goal We Pursue
Paul says, we have a specific goal to developing these traits. Paul writes.
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Have you noticed that people seem to be on edge? It is almost like they are looking for a fight. Any little offense and they will blow up or attack. Any perceived slight and they will walk away and conclude that your relationship with them is over.
As most of you know, Rick and I wrote a book a number of years ago titled, “Difficult People: Dealing with Those Who Drive You Crazy”. The book had a pretty simple premise: most conflict could be ended if we simply changed our attitude. If we made some effort at pursuing peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation, most problems would disappear. If we were willing to “rather be wronged” than to take offense and fight, we would preserve the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace.
Paul does not tell us to create unity; he encourages us to keep the unity. The Holy Spirit produces unity. We are unified by the work of God on our behalf through Christ. In other words, we have unity with other believers until we destroy it. We do this by our
- Competition rather than cooperation with each other
- Selfishness (insisting on our preferences)
- Quibbling over secondary issues
- Focus on advancing our “church” over the Kingdom of God
- Impatience . . . we give up on others much to easily
Our job is to maintain unity rather than dismantle it.
Unity must never come at the expense of doctrine! This is that balance issue again. There are some who say “doctrine divides”. The Bible however tells us just the opposite: it is doctrine that makes us one! It is our common experience of God’s grace extended to us through Christ’s sacrificial death and powerful resurrection that makes us one. Without doctrine we cannot have true unity in the Spirit!
When Jesus prayed in the Garden His prayer was that we (his followers) might be “one even as He and the father are one.” Unity in the church fosters growth. Unity enables us to influence society with one strong voice rather than many voices that are cancelling each other out. Unity among God’s diverse people is a wonderful testimony to a fractured world.
We must carefully weigh what are essential doctrines and what are secondary doctrines; essential doctrines are those that are explicitly taught in the Bible. We can disagree on the unclear issues (such as the timetable of the end-times, the application of the rite of baptism, the frequency of communion, the structure of church government) and still move forward as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Let’s do a little personal evaluation. Stop and ask yourself a simple question: What should a true child of God look like? How should they treat other people? How should they behave in a time of conflict? How should they treat someone who has failed or fallen? There is a good chance that you already have a sense of what it really means to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. To a large degree it is self-evident or axiomatic.
So here is the question: Are you living in the axiomatic way in which you know you should live as a child of God? If not, what needs to change? Is your doctrine faulty? Are there attitudes that you need to cultivate?
God has called us to be His ambassadors in the world. We represent Him to those around us. Let’s represent Him well!