In Ephesians 4, the apostle Paul pivots from his focus on doctrine to right living, emphasizing the believer’s responsibility to live in a manner worthy of God’s call in Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 4:1–3 he urges church members always to be humble, gentle, and patient, “bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (NKJV).
The word Paul uses here for “unity” (henotēs in Greek) refers to a condition of harmony or oneness that can only be experienced among members of Christ’s body—the church. This unity already exists as a spiritual reality through the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. Unity of the Spirit comes from God, but its expression can be destroyed by humans and, therefore, must be guarded and maintained.
Paul has just taught extensively in Ephesians 2:11–22 that maintaining oneness and peace among believers of decidedly different backgrounds is possible because of Christ’s work of reconciliation: “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death” (Ephesians 2:14–16, NLT).
Since the hostile barrier between Jews and Gentiles was broken down and destroyed by God, surely unity and the bond of peace between any two people can be preserved by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jew and Gentile, slave and free, black and white, male and female, rich and poor—no matter how dissimilar we may be, “we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13, NLT). We are already united in Christ, and the Holy Spirit maintains that unity as we “walk in a manner worthy” of our calling.
In Ephesians 4:2, Paul offers four qualities that, when cultivated in the believer’s life, help keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in the church. They are humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance, or “bearing with one another in love.”
Walking in humility means remembering to keep Jesus first, other people second, and ourselves last. We “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit” but instead consider the wants and needs of others above our own (Philippians 2:3). The apostle Peter stresses the value of humility for maintaining relational unity and peace, encouraging all believers to “be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” (1 Peter 3:8). “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5).
Paul teaches the Philippians that humbly serving others is one of the most profound ways to emulate Christ, who submitted to God’s authority in everything: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5–8).
Gentleness causes one to act in a manner that is meek, mild, and even-tempered. It is closely associated with self-control (Galatians 5:23). Jesus described Himself as “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). In the original Greek, the word is also used for a calming medicine, a soft breeze, or a horse that has been broken. In a similar holding back of power, patience requires the discipline to endure suffering or discomfort without striking back (see Colossians 1:11).
Forbearance or “bearing with one another in love” is a character trait inextricably linked with love. In fact, all the qualities that contribute to keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace are associated with love: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. . . . Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:4–8, ESV).
Indeed, cultivating love is the core component to keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace” (Colossians 3:12–15).