Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:2a “With all lowliness. . .”
Our worthy walk (4:1) begins with “lowliness.” Ephesians 1-3 lifts us to heady heights, but remember, all our blessings are bestowed, not inherent within us. The wealth is ours, but given as a gift. The strength is ours, but its source is elsewhere. The dignity is ours, but it is conferred. We live in heavenly places, but our native home was the dust. We of ourselves are nothing, God is all. We are creatures, He Creator. We were dead, He quickened. We were lost, He sought us. We were in danger, He saved us.
For every positive aspect in our lives, we acknowledge God as the Giver. We respond to His goodness by living life with “all” lowliness, every possible kind of humility, everyday, everywhere.
“Lowliness” was not a prized virtue in the New Testament world. The Greeks despised humility and deemed it a disgrace. To them “lowliness” bespoke the indignity and cowardly weakness found only in slaves.
Jesus, whose life and death were lowliness incarnate, transformed humility into a virtue. Christ completely overturned the world’s attitude about what constitutes proper living. He flipped behavioral science upside down. His life tumbled everything topsy turvy. We serve a Master who, in a world which deified arrogance, donned an apron and stooped to wash feet while on His way to suffer an ignominious death by crucifixion.
We oft forget how lowly a cross was in Jesus’ time. The cross has rightfully become our most cherished symbol, but by gilding it we are in danger of forgetting the “lowliness” it originally denoted. If a person of the first century could see today’s churches, with crosses on steeples and in stain glass windows, he would be as horrified as we would be if we were to see a building adorned with electric chairs.
Jesus of Nazareth radically altered attitudes toward behavior. He taught humanity how to live. His first students learned well. Matthew, in his gospel, does not hide the fact he was a publican. Mark’s gospel, written under the influence of Peter, says nothing about Peter’s walking on the water. Luke and John did not affix their names to their gospels.
Jesus taught the value of “lowliness.” Humility is essential to being right with God. Pride, the sin of competing with God, forces God to resist, rather than assist, us. The Bible thrice proclaims, “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (Jas. 4:6; PR 3:34; 1 P 5:5). As pride plays a part in every sin, humility has a role in every spiritual blessing.
Humility is also essential to successful interpersonal relationships. Pride is to blame for conflicts. “Only by pride cometh contention” (PR 13:10). Chrysostom said, “Nothing will so avail to divide the Church as love of power.” Pride breaks the peace; lowliness creates peace based on a sense of equality and brotherhood. If all believers lived in a giant pyramid, contented to dwell side by side on the bottom level as equals, there would be ample room for all and no cause for jealousy. However, if some tried to move up, they would, near the apex, become cramped, begin stepping on one another, and become irritable. “Lowliness” is our key to joyful coexistence.
Eph. 4:2b “. . .and meekness,. . .”
“Lowliness and meekness” are twin sister. They belong together. Jesus forever welded them when He said, “I am meek, and lowly” (MT 11:29). We follow Him, and step gladly in both of these footprints.
“Meekness” is not weakness, but strength under control. It is quiet restraint, mildness and control of self in the face of provocation–every instinct, every thought, every motive, every motion, every word, under the control of God. The call to be a Christian is the call to tame our passions.
“Meekness” was most often used to describe animals which had been domesticated, such as a well-trained dog or horse. The result is not a loss of power, but a subjugation of the will. For instance, a tamed lion still has all its strength, but its will is under the control of the master.
As Christians, we have feelings and opinions and passions, but we are to demonstrate a God-controlled response to life situations which is superior to responses made by the ungodly. Pastor Ironside had a friend, George, who had a terrible temper which often erupted. Christian friends lovingly helped George battle his sin. When he would lash out, someone would quietly ask him, “Is that old George or new George talking?” Ironside said the man’s eyes almost instantly began to fill with tears, and he would say, “That’s the old George; new George would never behave that way.”
The world admires aggression, the will to assault, but believers are unwilling to lash out at others. We are controlled by One who was “meek and lowly.” Our pasions are governed by God. We do not assert our own importance, we have none. We do not lash out in anger, God has mollified ours. We do not wildly blurt out our own opinions, they are not as important as God’s. We do not fight for our own rights, we have none as slaves.
Straightforward confrontation is okay. Deliberate dialogue is desirable. But never demolish anyone. Do not lose control and smash a person or humiliate them. Keep yourself under God’s control.
The Jews once had an unusual custom. When walking, they would not knowingly step on even the smallest piece of paper. They would instead respectfully pick it up, because the name of God might have been written on it. We can learn from this superstition. Verbally trample on no human being. They all bear the image of God, and believers bear also the blood of Christ. We dare not trample either underfoot. Stay under control.
Eph. 4:2c “. . .with long-suffering,. . .”
The focus of “meekness” is passions. “Longsuffering” in this context deals with revenge. Believers must not retaliate when hurt by others. “Longsuffering” is the absence of revenge in the presence of wrong.
Aristotle said the greatest Greek virtue was refusal to tolerate any insult and readiness to strike back. God’s people act otherwise. David could have killed Saul twice, both times with considerable justification, but did not. Our Master could have called twelve legions of angels (MT 26:53), but did not. Avoid revenge. Allow space for a person to apologize, and if they do not, leave the rest to God. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. . . .Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (RM 12:19,21).
After walking with Jesus a while, Peter knew he had found One whose hallmark was forgiveness. The Apostle, probably feeling magnanimous, asked, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?” (MT 18:21). Peter may have felt overly generous in being willing to forgive another seven times, but Jesus replied, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” (MT 18:22). In other words, the spirit of Christian forgiveness knows no boundaries.
How far do we have to go in not seeking revenge against others? Much farther than the lost will go, way more than “halfway,” at least the second mile (MT 5:41). Watchman Nee gives two wonderful illustrations on this subject. The first is of a Christian in South China who had a rice field on a hillside. During a drought he used a waterwheel, worked by a treadmill, to lift water from a stream to his field. In the night, his neighbor made a breach in the dividing bank and drained off all the water. The Christian fixed the breach, and pumped water again, only to have the same thing happen several times. He consulted his brethren, “I have tried to be patient and not to retaliate, but is it right?” They prayed, and one said, “If we only try to do the right thing, surely we are very poor Christians. We have to do something more than what is right.” The brother was deeply touched. Next morning he pumped water for his neighbor’s field first, and in the afternoon pumped water for his own field. He had no more trouble keeping water in his field. His neighbor was so amazed at his action that he began to inquire the reason, and soon became a Christian.
Nee also tells of a Japanese Christian lady whose house was broken into by a thief. She prepared the man a meal and gave him her house-key. The man was so overwhelmed and humiliated by it that he began to investigate the reason for her action and later became a Christian.
The worthy walk of a believer begins with “lowliness, meekness, longsuffering.” None of these traits come naturally. Each requires an absolute miracle. Thus, we are reminded, before we “walk” in this world, let us first take ample time to “sit,” and muster our resources.