In a culture rife with self-help manuals and professional advice to maintain a positive self-image, Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:1-3 come as a timely reminder that maintaining a proper self-image will always be better than simply seeking to maintain a positive self-image. This does not mean that we cannot have a positive self-image, it just means that losing a grasp of who we truly are in favor of mental self-relief is not innately good or healthy. In place of “you have to love you,” Paul tells the believers in Ephesus that their lives must be marked by meekness and lowliness. It was not about being able to speak with confidence or demanding respect from those around them, rather, they were to be longsuffering, and forbearing in love.
This self-sacrifice mirrors the language Paul uses in Philippians 2:3, “in lowliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves.” There Paul uses this language to call Christians to mirror the life of Christ. True Christianity is a life lived as a reflection of the self-sacrificial love of Jesus Christ. With an end goal of unity and peace with other believers, it should be the natural lifestyle of every Christian to seek those things that work for the betterment of others, especially other Christians. But why should this be? On what grounds can Paul here demand that Christians everywhere love and sacrificially give of their own desires and preferences for the unity and health of the church?
The answer to this question is found in Ephesians 4:1. “Therefore.” This word is of the greatest explanatory significance. The search for the reason why we should live in selfless ways is bound up in this one word, “therefore.” So then what does this “therefore” mean? Paul has spent the previous three chapters explaining the realities that we have been given by God through Christ. God has chosen us and called us. God came and made us alive and saved us when we were dead. God has built us up together in the body of the church, and given us a purpose in life. Paul even wrote his personal prayer for the empowerment of God’s spirit and the growth of the believers in the love of Christ and in their personal sanctification. Now, following all of these things, Paul says, “therefore.”
“Because of all of these realities” live lives of humility. When we get a proper perspective of God and His work in us, we can finally have a proper self-image. If we get a glimpse of the magnitude of His wisdom and power, we cannot help but respond with the Psalmist, “what is man that thou art mindful of him?” Seeing the goodness and grace of God, and understanding that we have been saved by grace and not our own works, we only have one response left, “lowliness and meekness.” Paul’s command can only be fully understood in light of the deep spiritual realities tucked away inside of the word “therefore.”
And this will be the mark of a Christian that is growing and becoming more Christ-like. They will love, and suffer long, and forbear wrongs, and humbly endeavor to maintain unity and peace. This is what Christ died to accomplish. Now, being followers of Christ, we must strive to continue what He began and what He desires to accomplish through us. May God help us to become ones who live like Paul describes in Acts 20:17 as “serving the Lord with all humility of mind.”
Reflect: In what ways have you exhibited lowliness and meekness that strives for spiritual unity in the past week? In what ways have you failed?