A Manner of Life

The letter to the Ephesians devotes much of its content to establishing the unity of both Jew and Greek in the body of Christ (the dividing wall has been torn down between us), familial identity ( we are all children of God, adopted through Christ into this one family) and the new heavenly citizenship this entails. A soaring crescendo of all of these themes is found in Ephesians 4:1-6. Having established our common heritage, Paul calls on the members of this family to "live in a manner worthy" of God’s call (4:1).

What are the attributes of such a manner of living? "Humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace" (4:2-3). These, intended to be the attributes of our common life in Christ, have always been a challenge to me, not that I do not think that humility, gentleness, patience, love and peace are a worthy call. It is just that I am not certain what it means practically in the context of Paul’s letters. Humility and gentleness certainly do not mean Paul will accept a challenge to the integrity of the Gospel, as a quick reading of Galatians makes clear. Patience does not mean that Paul will put up with anything, as his letters to Corinth demonstrate. Bearing with each other in love does not mean you approve of sinful behavior. Preserving unity in peace in no way indicates compromise for Paul either in the Christian way of life or the content of the Gospel message. (And to those who would argue that Ephesians is not an authentic letter of Paul, all of these admonitions can be found in those letters accepted by all as genuine Epistles of Paul.) So, these calls do not indicate that one should abrogate the truth to keep the peace or that disagreements be swept aside in misplaced attempts at unity.

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I think Paul does suggest, however, that even when disagreements do arise that we always maintain humility and gentleness in teaching the truth, that we be patient with those whose opinions we do not share, and that we seek to understand the positions of our Christian brothers and sisters. It is not a call to subvert the truth for a false peace; this is a call to avoid malice, spitefulness, mean spiritedness, and a sense of superiority and arrogance when confronted with views we do not share and even behavior we think wrong. If this attitude were brought by Christians to all of our dealings, we would constantly be reminding ourselves that we are a part of "one body, one spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (4:5-6). We would ask ourselves, "Could I be wrong? What must I change?," not to avoid the hard choices that must be made or to relativize the truth, but to be certain that in our speech, in our attitudes and in our behavior we see the common bond that ties us to those with whom we are at odds and that we do not avoid the log that may be in our own eye in order to concentrate on the speck in our neighbor's eye. I prefer to be right (how come everyone can’t see that I am? I often ask myself), while God prefers that we be righteous.

 

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