Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan.

“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; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” 

Ephesians 4:1-3


Undeniable logic. Inevitable deduction. This word makes it obvious that there is a very close relationship between the previous and what follows. It is important to note this relationship here because with chapter four the inspired apostle begins that portion of his epistle where he applies to the lives of the Ephesians the doctrinal truths he taught in the first three chapters.

With the word “therefore,” the inspired apostle is showing that there is a very close relationship between doctrine and life, between the truths believed and the lives lived by those who believe the truths. Our believing the doctrinal truths presented in the first three chapters of this epistle requires a certain walk in holiness. We are called to live out the doctrines we believe.

We must be careful not to separate doctrine and practice. The practical implications of the doctrines must be taken to heart by the more intellectual believers; and the doctrinal truths that are the basis for how one lives must not be minimized by the more experiential believers.

There is in the first verse another word that teaches us that there must be a close relationship between what one believes and how one lives. It is the word “worthy.” The walk of a believer as presented in the previous chapters is to be “worthy” of those truths. A “worthy” walk is one that is “becoming to, suitable to, or matches with” the truth. The walk ought not clash with the truth believed. We are called to take care that our life be consistent with the teachings and the calling. One of the purposes of the believer’s life is that it is to make the doctrine attractive, to cause people to admire it and to desire it. We are to live the kind of life that adorns the doctrines of Scripture. That is the way our Father who is in heaven will be glorified (Matt. 5:16).

The relationship between what we believe and how we live should be very close. Not always, however, is it so. The flesh of every believer “lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Gal. 5:17). The believer is not always consistent. He believes these wonderful truths, but he does not always evidence them by the way in which he lives. This inconsistency (sin) is a constant source of humility!

The knowledge of this inconsistency is what occasions the inspired apostle Paul to “beseech” Christians. He is urgently asking, imploring, the Ephesian Christians of his day as well as all believers today. A consistent walk is a matter of great concern to the apostle. Later he will command them and argue with them, but here he beseeches them—and us.

To strengthen his appeal, the apostle makes it clear that he is writing to them as someone who experientially knows of what he speaks. He appeals to them as “the prisoner of the Lord.” It is believed that at the time of this writing Paul was in prison. He was living the life of a prisoner because he was a slave of Jesus Christ, loyal to Him and striving always to be obedient to Him. As a consequence of his faithful walk, he was imprisoned. So when Paul beseeches the Ephesian believers, he was at that moment experiencing the consequences of a walk worthy of his calling. As a prisoner of the Lord, Paul beseeches the believers to live as he is living—a life that is consistent with what they believe (even if it means imprisonment). They are not their own; they belong to their Lord. They ought therefore to live out of the desire only to please Him—a life that is worthy of their relationship to Him.

Those who are able to believe the truth have been called. This ability is theirs because they have a “vocation.” We have been “called out of darkness into his marvellous light” that we “should shew forth the praises of him who hath called” us (I Pet. 2:9). Those whom God predestinated unto the adoption of children (Eph. 1:5), them He also called (Rom. 8:30). Christianity is not something that a man decides to take up and do. It is something into which we have been called. We received not only the external gospel call heard in the preaching, but also the internal, effectual call made by the Spirit with our spirit. This call separated the Ephesian Christians from all “other Gentiles” (Eph. 4:17), and this call separates us from all who do not believe. This call moves us into a new position, the position of being saved, for “whom he called, them he also justified.”

What is the walk that is worthy of the calling to which every believer is called? In general, it is the walk of godliness—it is constantly renewing the spirit of our mind so that we put off the old man and put on the new man (Eph. 4:22-24). Over the course of the next three chapters Paul will apply the doctrines to the whole life of believers. However, there is one specific area of the worthy walk of the believer that the inspired apostle presents first, namely, preserving the unity of the church. This is of greatest importance. The truths the Spirit used him to explain and acclaim in the first three chapters are pressing on him this specific aspect of the believer’s walk, namely, a walk that preserves the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. For the next sixteen verses Paul will direct himself to this one aspect of the worthy life. And after that he does not leave it and go on to something else. Rather, he uses the need to keep the unity of the church as the basis for several other admonitions in the rest of this epistle.

The Ephesian believers (and all believers with them) have been called out of spiritual darkness in order to live in a manner that illustrates that they were blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3). A worthy walk is necessary because God chose them in Christ before the foundation of the world, that they should be holy and without blame before Him (Eph. 1:4). Their walk should manifest the fact that they have been predestinated unto the adoption of children and are now of the household of God (Eph. 1:5;Eph. 2:19). Further, the truth that God is gathering together in one all things in Christ is to be evident in the walk of those who believe this truth—a walk that is consistent with this truth. The converted Gentiles in Ephesus have heard the preaching of peace (Eph. 2:17), and the wall between them and the converted Jews has been broken down and they are now one in Christ, who is their peace (Eph. 2:14, 15). They are one body and one building (Eph. 2:16, 21, 22).

Is it any wonder that the chief characteristic of a walk worthy of our calling is the keeping of the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? Election unites all saints in Christ. The one blood of Christ makes each elect to be a part of God’s one family. Over against the disruptive, dividing power of sin, it is God’s purpose to unite all things in Christ, and this is manifested already in the unity salvation makes of the saved Gentiles with the saved Jews. This is why, when it comes to the particulars of the Christian life, the first thing mentioned is the preservation of this unity. The preservation of the church’s unity powerfully reveals to the world that there is one body and one Spirit, one hope and one faith, one Lord, and one God and Father. It is, above all else, the preserving of this unity that gives God glory.

To speak of the unity of the church as the “unity of the Spirit” instructs us concerning the character or nature of this unity. It clearly implies that while this unity may express itself visibly and externally, it is first spiritual and internal. The Spirit works this unity in the spirits of those chosen by God in Christ, testifying to their spirits that they are the children of God—children in the same family, all having the same Father.

Also, the unity of the church is the unity of the Spirit because it is the Spirit who makes this unity. The church is not made one by the human spirit of friendliness. The members of the body don’t produce this unity. The Holy Spirit does! We cannot make this unity. That is why we are called to keep it, that is, not to break the unity already made by the Spirit. This unity is a living, organic unity, arising from within and working itself out. As the unity of the members of the human body is not made by the members, so the members of Christ’s body do not make themselves to be one in Him. The unity of the human body is that there is one life flowing through them all. So the members of Christ’s body have one life, the life of the Spirit, flowing through each of them. Further, this unity is experienced only by those in whom the Spirit dwells and enlightens. It was exactly when Peter saw the Spirit in Cornelius that he was convinced of the unity (Acts 10:47). Their nationality was quite different, but that did not destroy their unity. It is the presence of the Spirit in two people that enables them to have true fellowship.

The calling of every member of the body of Christ with respect to this unity is to “keep” it. The word used by the Spirit means “to attend to carefully, to guard or preserve.” While we are not to make the unity, we are called to guard the unity that already exists by the work of the Spirit. We are to accept the responsibility of constantly guarding this unity.

To what extent are we called to keep it? We are to “endeavor.” Today the word “endeavor” means only that we are attempting to do something. However, the Greek word translated “endeavoring” is more than attempting or trying. It means to be diligent, and comes from a word that speaks of haste. Therefore, the effort called for by the inspired apostle is great. We are to hurry to do something. We are to show great concern. This is not something that we do infrequently, but we are to have a great concern that this unity of the body of Christ is manifested. We are to preserve it at all costs. We are to be diligent to manifest it.

When the Holy Spirit calls believers to endeavor to keep the unity of the church, He does so by having us focus, not on the other members of the church, but on our attitudes toward others. Three things are to characterize the attitude of one who is greatly concerned about guarding the church’s unity: longsuffering, forbearing, and love. “Longsuffering” means that we hold ourselves in control for a long time. This is over against giving way to our desires. As God suffers long with us, so we must endure those in the body who irritate us. “Forbearing” means that we exercise self-restraint and that we tolerantly bear with them. Instead of retaliating or criticizing or demanding that they change, we are called to develop the attribute of forbearance. We are not to dismiss them or be contemptuous of them, but we are to bear with them because we are greatly concerned about maintaining the unity of the Spirit. And positively we are to forbear one another “in love.” Instead of just enduring our fellow-saints who irritate us, we are called to love them because between us there is the bond of perfectness (Col. 3:13, 14). We are to make the conscious decision to enjoy the bond God has made between us, deciding to be interested in them and concerned about them, praying for them.

The only way any Christian can exercise himself in love, being longsuffering and forbearing, is by consciously developing and maintaining an inner disposition of “lowliness and meekness.” Lowliness is humility of mind. It is in sharp contrast to pride and self-assertion. Humility is described in Scripture as one of the chief marks of the followers of Christ, who humbled Himself supremely. Humility is having a clear and correct understanding of our sins and sinfulness, so we recognize ourselves to be the chief of sinners and less than the least of all saints (Eph. 3:8). Most often we cannot forbear and be longsuffering with fellow-members of the body of Christ because we are looking down on them, seeing them as worse sinners than we are, thinking that we would never do what they did. Humility puts every other member of Christ’s body above us, as better than we are.

“Meekness” is the virtue of inner mildness or gentleness. It is the inner strength that accommodates another’s weakness. It is to be considerate of another. And it is the willingness to suffer wrong from them. Instead of retaliating, the meek are willing to commit the matter to God who will judge righteously (I Pet. 2:23). It is our sinful conceits that often cause division in the church. The flesh of every Christian quickly takes pride in family, nationality, talents, status, job, and accomplishments. It is this flesh that must be crucified and put off. And what must be put on is humility and meekness.

This beautiful inner disposition of lowliness and meekness is something the Christian is called to exercise “all” the time—”with all lowliness and meekness,” the text reads. In every situation and at all times. This is to be the fundamental disposition and character of every Christian. Then we can be longsuffering and forbearing. And this is the way we keep the unity of the church in the bond of peace.

The unity of the Spirit is bound together in peace. To the degree that we are peaceable and peacemakers, we will preserve the peace and unity of the church. This is the great end of all the doctrine taught in the first three chapters of this letter to the Ephesians. If you have been called to believe those precious doctrinal truths, then you are called to walk “worthy” of this calling. And the most important part of such a worthy walk is to preserve the unity of the church.

Preserve this unity of the Spirit! Make every effort to preserve it by constantly working to develop the spiritual virtues of lowliness and meekness.