Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:2d “. . .forbearing one another in love;”
To “walk worthy” (4:1) we must display “lowliness,” humility (4:2a), “meekness,” strength under control (4:2b), and “longsuffering,” the absence of revenge in the presence of wrong (4:2c). We also have to be “forbearing,” gently enduring “one another in love.” We will alas have ample opportunities to practice forbearance in the church. Believers are not angels, and will never be perfect in this world. We will at times be mistreated and spoken harshly to. Believers can be unjust, unfair, inconsiderate, inconsistent, hypocritical, and wrong. However, we do not quit “forbearing one another.”
We forbear others even when they display displeasing faults which offend. We find in ourselves wrongs hard to forgive. Thus, be neither surprised nor harsh when about others we learn of things hard to forgive.
Whatever the wrong, we not only forbear, but do it “in love.” Our task is not merely to put up with one another. It is rather, despite what happens, to love one another. We are not to endure injury without open resentment while harboring ill will within. A lid left on a seething pot of water forebodes disaster. Eventually, the lid will blow off, or the pan will explode. Flush out ill will by prayer, “lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (HB 12:15). Forbear “in love.”
Eph. 4:3a “Endeavoring. . .”
“Endeavoring” denotes exertion, diligent striving, sparing no effort. Never say the Christian life is easy to live. Living it in general, and loving one another in particular, is hard work. “Endeavoring” is a present participle, denoting continuous action. This duty requires never-ending vigilance.
Believers may underestimate the importance of unity within a church, but Satan does not. He never stops endeavoring to divide us. He always sows seeds of discord among believers, trying to stir up strife in the church.
Satan knows church trouble devastates our joy. Life’s worst trouble is family trouble. Nothing mangles our inner essence worse than strife with our own flesh and blood. Second on the list of troubles, and not far behind the first, is church trouble. When discord strikes a church, its members can be neither happy nor healthy. Conflict kills all joy. Our church rolls are filled with names of inactive members utterly ravaged by church trouble. When talking to these hurting saints, we get the feeling someone threw a grenade into their spiritual world and blew it to smithereens.
Satan knows church trouble devastates our evangelism. Jesus prayed, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (JN 17:21). Satan heard these words when they were originally prayed and took them to heart. He knows oneness in the church is a powerful tool for evangelism. I fear believers often forget how important our oneness is in our efforts to win the lost. To an impersonal society we can offer personal attention. To a high tech world the church can provide high touch.
Lost people yearn for the warmth and acceptance which exists in a loving church. The world is always seeking the unity believers in a harmonious fellowship have found. Laws, conferences, treaties, the United Nations–these are all efforts at creating oneness, but they all ultimately fail. Essentially every major treaty in history has been broken. A supernatural oneness, the unity churches have an opportunity to express, is probably a church’s most powerful testimony, for it is a stark contrast to the disunity usually found in the world. Thus, Satan ever tries to destroy our harmony.
Satan is not the only nemesis we face in our “endeavoring.” We have to work hard at concord because the unity we seek has to be preserved in the context of diversity. A church is a hodgepodge, consisting of different types of people, having various attitudes and mind-sets. Difference is our hallmark, for Christianity extends its invitation to all categories of people.
Very few organizations give a blanket welcome and say, “All come.” Social and civic organizations often target adults only, and make no provision for the young. Schools focus on children only, no provision is made for parents and preschoolers. Most groups seek only to deal with people of common interests, desires, or ages. The Church, though, is to say, “All come.” Newborns are provided for, preschoolers are taught, children are important, teens are wanted, adults will not be neglected. Rich and poor, employer and employee, male and female, Jew and Gentile–“All come.”
The Holy Spirit takes people who are vastly different and enables them to live together in satisfaction. This oneness in the midst of profound diversity brings great glory to God, and attracts the world’s attention.
To promote joy and evangelism, let us be “endeavoring.” Let us share a singleness of purpose and focus in this matter, and give determined effort and exertion to promoting concord within our church. To this goal we should be wholly dedicated with a holy zeal.
Eph. 4:3b “. . .to keep. . .”
“Keep” means to guard, to maintain with watchful care. Peace is not maintained naturally. It requires conscious and consistent effort, otherwise it is lost by default. “Keep” also implies its object is already in one’s possession. We cannot create peace. We at best avoid breaking or spoiling it. Peace comes from God as a sacred trust. This adds even more impetus to our “endeavoring.” To tread on peace is to trample on holy ground.
We are to be vigilant in the face of many attempts from within and without the church to take away our God-given and God-intended concord. We are ever “endeavoring to keep” peace because many things are ever endangering it. Envy, jealousy, and anger still live within us and surface when we have not stayed long in our prayer closets. Pride ever stalks the corridors of our hearts; Diotrephes still “loves to have the preeminence (3 J 9). Cowardice abides; Demas yet forsakes us (2 TM 4:10). Mean-ness is with us; Alexander the coppersmith still does much harm (2 TM 4:14).
Error remains; Hymeneus and Alexander still blaspheme (1 TM 1:20). We sometimes make the mistake of treating our own opinions with the reverence due only to absolute truth. We must be careful when fighting for the truth. Hold a rein on our passions. Keep control. Think and pray before speaking. Do not fight the Lord’s battles with Satan’s weapons. Do not hold the Bible in one hand while having the look and sound of Satan on our demeanor. If others wish to quarrel with us, do not quarrel in return. If others revile us, do not respond in kind. Our calling is not to win a debate. We are to win people, not arguments.
Beware the temptation to speak idly and cruelly of one another. “He that soweth discord among brethren” is an abomination unto the Lord (PR 6:16,19b). “A whisperer separateth chief friends” (PR 16:28b). Let us be uniters rather than dividers. We do have to speak straightforwardly about one another at times in certain business settings, but even then our words should never be to undercut another or to drive a wedge between believers in Jesus. When we do find it necessary to share a criticism about another person, let us do so in a spirit of love.
We who have in our possession the best news in history can find plenty of things better to talk about than one another’s flaws. Dionysius one day rudely entered Plato’s class room. When Plato asked why he had come, Dionysius replied, “I thought you would be talking against me to your students.” Plato replied, “Do you think we are so destitute of matter to converse on that we talk of you?” Truly we are running short of material when we begin to undercut one another.
I do not share these truths in order to scold or demean us. In fact, rarely have I been as proud of a church as I have been of East Side this very week. We have peacefully settled an issue which has ripped many churches asunder. We have discussed, disagreed, deliberated, sought common ground, and then this past Wednesday decided in a spirit of Christian love. We have given a precious servant of Christ a chance to continue laboring in the Lord’s field. While I was seated at my desk Thursday, Bro. Wally came in, leaned over, threw his arms around me, and said, “Thanks, Brother.” I thought my heart would explode. Had I died right then, Heaven might have been a let-down. East Side, your pastor is proud of you.
Brothers and sisters, I want to encourage you in this matter. I am pleased, and I believe Jesus is pleased. My bragging on you is not meant as a detraction from the glory due to Jesus. We acknowledge, all our love is due to His sweet Spirit. Sometimes we need to hear a commending word about our deeds, and celebrate what Jesus has done for us, and in us.
Of late our church has considered several issues, any one of which could have blown our fellowship apart, but God has worked among us and in us. Think of the issues we have tackled–to sell or keep the twenty acres, whether or not to ordain women as deacons, who to receive as members by statement, a constitution, bylaws, the personnel policy. Despite the potential for trouble inherent in each of these issues, we find ourselves by God’s grace more strongly knit, and more closely bound than ever before.
This is no small matter. I encourage you. I commend you. I rejoice. However, I also know Satan is furious. He hates us, and despises our peace! I am grateful God let me preach on this text this very Sunday. In victory grow not proud or careless. Redouble efforts in prayer. Examine self. None of us is perfect or above causing trouble. We all carry within us firebrands which could burst into flames at any moment. Let us resolve more than ever before to be “endeavoring to keep” the concord among us.