I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love — Ephesians 4:1-2 (KJV)
Paul calls out four particular aspects of how to “walk out” a life worthy of your calling, and they are more than personal qualities. For the life worthy of the calling of God is a life in the fellowship of the people of God; and if this is to be maintained these four virtues are vital.
The first, emphasized by the characteristic all (cf. 1:8; 4:19, 31; 5:3, 9; 6:18), is lowliness. Very significantly, the Greek noun tapeinophrosynē does not seem to have been used before New Testament times, and the corresponding adjective tapeinos nearly always had a bad meaning, and was associated with words having the sense of slavish, mean, ignoble. Lessons of humility had been taught in the Old Testament, and such a passage as Isaiah 66:2 in the Septuagint is a notable exception to the general pre-Christian use of tapeinos, but to the Greeks humility was not a virtue. To them, as indeed to most non-Christian people in any generation, the concept of ‘the fullness of life … left no room for humility’.
In Christ lowliness became a virtue. His life and death were service and sacrifice without thought of reputation (Phil. 2:6–7). Because the Christian is called to follow in his steps, humility has an irreplaceable part in the Christian character (cf. Acts 20:19), and also for the reason that he has been brought to see the greatness and glory and holiness of God, so that he cannot but be overwhelmed by the realization of his own weakness and sinfulness.
The second word, meekness (prautēs), was used in classical Greek in the good sense of mildness or gentleness of character. The adjective (praos), especially, found an important use in describing an animal completely disciplined and controlled. Meekness in the New Testament is used of a person’s attitude to the word of God (Jas 1:21), but more often of one’s attitude to other people (1 Cor. 4:21; 2 Tim. 2:25; Titus 3:2).
It is closely connected with the spirit of submissiveness which becomes the keynote of this letter when, in 5:21, the apostle turns to speak of human relationships. Moses is aptly described in Numbers 12:3 as ‘very meek’. For, as Mitton puts it, meekness ‘is the spirit of one who is so absorbed in seeking some worthy goal for the common good that he refuses to be deflected from it by slights, injuries or insults directed at himself personally, or indeed by personal considerations of any kind’.
Thirdly, there is patience (makrothymia), a word sometimes used of steadfast endurance of suffering or misfortune (as in Jas 5:10) but more often, as is the case here, of slowness in avenging wrong or retaliating when hurt by another. It is used of God’s patience with humanity (Rom. 2:4; 9:22; 1 Tim. 1:16; 1 Pet. 3:20; 2 Pet. 3:15), and the corresponding and consequent quality that the Christian should show towards others (1 Cor. 13:4; Gal. 5:22; Col. 3:12; 2 Tim. 4:2).
Forbearance, the fourth requirement, is also a divine quality (Rom. 2:4), the practical outworking of longsuffering. ‘It involves bearing with one another’s weaknesses, not ceasing to love one’s neighbours or friends because of those faults in them which perhaps offend or displease us’ (Abbott). It is ‘that mutual tolerance without which no group of human beings can live together in peace’ (Stott).
Such forbearance, and indeed all these four qualities, are possible only in love. For love is the basic attitude of seeking the highest good of others, and it will therefore lead to all these qualities, and include them all (see vv. 15–16 and on 1:4). Paul has prayed that his readers may be ‘rooted and grounded in love’ (3:17), and now he exhorts them to do their part, and to go on to possess all these virtues in love.
Tyndale Commentaries Full Set (49 Vols.)
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