You meet them all the time—Someone discouraged who needs lifting up—but your thoughts are focused on your own hard day. Someone who would enjoy an easy-going conversation with you—but the complaints in your mind suddenly come out in your speech, sharp and cold, and that’s the end of that. Someone who made a mistake and could use your correcting help—but you have no time to think how best to lend a hand.
Yes, you meet them all the time—or didn’t you notice?
Sons and daughters of God, members of his family—this is our awesome calling.
It demands something from us, as we learn in the first verse of Ephesians 4. Our lives should measure up to our calling.
Beginning in the second verse of Ephesians 4, Paul wrote commands regarding how to carry out this calling in our relationships with one another. The first quality mentioned is the elusive one—elusive at least in definition—of humility.
Biblical humility doesn’t mean putting yourself down continually. That is an irrational modesty, and it’s really saying that God made a mistake when he created you, or that he made you to be trampled on by other people. No, God made every individual to be significant. You are significant. You are important to God. He says that everyone who belongs to the body of Christ—each one who has come to a knowledge of Jesus Christ as his personal Savior—is unique and important.
God says, in fact, that he has designed a place for you in the body of Christ that no one else can fill. That place is so important that the entire body will work as it should only if you are functioning as God intends. This is what Ephesians 4:16 expresses.
So how could we question the way God made us? Paul asked the same in Romans 9:20: “Who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?'”
We all tend to say, “Lord, why did you make me like this?” But Paul said in Romans 9:21 that the potter has the right to make from the same lump of clay whatever kind of pottery he intends. We’re all just lumps of clay that God takes and fashions as he will.
After all, how God made you is not so important. The important thing to remember is that he made you that way. Biblical humility is simply saying, “Lord, thank you for the way you made me. I don’t have to try to be like somebody else or do what someone else does. I just want to be and do what you want me to be and do.” This results from having a realistic view of ourselves, as we are instructed in Romans 12:3.
With that kind of attitude we can relate to people much more easily. We don’t feel threatened by them, we don’t feel a sense of competition or comparison. We can actually complement each other, and we can use what God gives us to serve one another.
Humility is to be who I am, to fit where God wants me, and to serve others.
The next command in Ephesians 4:2 is for gentleness, or, in some translations, meekness. We tend to think of this quality as a weakness, particularly among men. We have generated this unrealistic male image of strength—”Everything alright, George?” Yep. “Need any help, George?” Nope. But that’s so far from true. I need all kinds of help, but I’m often unwilling to admit it.
We get the impression that gentleness means timidity. It’s the negative quality of the little man who’s afraid to do or speak his part, to say what he thinks. I know that’s not gentleness because Jesus said, “I am gentle and humble in heart,” and if there ever was a man who wasn’t timid, it was Jesus. He was the epitome of courage and strength—but it was strength under control.
This meekness must be present not only in our relationships with people, but also in our response to God. It means accepting God’s dealings with us. You see, I could complain, I could get upset, I could say God is unfair. But because I know he cares, because I know he loves me, because I know he’s in control and he’s working out his plan for my life, I can accept his dealings without complaining or giving up.
For God will test us. Trials are a part of his development program for us. They come, as Peter wrote, “so that your faith… may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:7). Are you willing to accept these trials without arguing with God?
As for our meekness and gentleness with other people, notice the example of Christ’s life in 1 Peter 2:23.
“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”
Jesus was sinless and totally free of deceit, with nothing in his life for which men could truthfully accuse him. Yet when they did accuse him, he did not strike back. He didn’t even say, “Okay, you’ve got it your way now, but just wait until I come back.” No, he made no threats.
For us as well, this meekness should mean an unwillingness to retaliate—even when it is justifiable to do so. That is why self-control is a necessary ingredient.
When we are falsely accused our usual response is to quickly defend ourselves, mentally if not verbally. But we don’t have to. Jesus didn’t retaliate, because he entrusted himself to the God who judges justly. Jesus believed God would justify him—and he did, as you know. Everything in Jesus’ life was vindicated when the power of God’s Spirit raised him from the dead and exalted him at his Father’s throne.
In his own way God will also bring about his just purpose and plan for each of us, though now we may not understand it—especially when we are hurt by others. So he tells us, “You don’t have to retaliate.”
“But Lord,” I may say, “it wasn’t fair!”
“George, you don’t have to retaliate.”
“But I’ve got to defend myself. That’s part of me!”
“No, it isn’t necessary. I’ll take care of you.”
Now this doesn’t mean I suppress my feelings down inside where they generate resentment. No, I deal with those feelings, but I deal with them before God, and if necessary I can ask a brother or sister whose confidence I have to pray with me and help me. But I’m never to retaliate against the person who may have been unfair to me.
The third quality is patience. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you the meaning of patience. We all know what it is, though we don’t experience it that much. But I will say that in the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13, patience is the first-named quality. Love is patient.
Joined with this mention of patience in Ephesians 4 is the idea of forbearance—”bearing with one another in love.” In The Living Bible this is paraphrased, “making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.”
In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will….
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.—Ephesians 1:3-5; Ephesians 4:1-2
Once when I visited my daughter’s home my grandson grabbed my hand to take me to see something. They had found an uncracked robin’s egg in the backyard, so inside the house they made a cotton nest under a lamp and then placed the egg in it. They found out what the temperature should be, and had a thermometer there to check it. They were going to watch the egg hatch.
What caught my eye though was a card my daughter had placed in front of this little experiment. She had written on the card, “Shin, I’m happening!” And I thought how good it would be to wear a big sign around me that said, “I’m happening.” Every time you looked at me you would say, “Oh yes, that’s right, George is still happening—he’s not there yet and he’s going to have some faults in the process.” And if you had your sign on I would say the same about you. We would realize we all have faults. That’s forbearance.
Humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance. If we could demonstrate these among ourselves, our love would be stronger, non-Christians would indeed recognize something different about us, and God would be glorified.
But how do we change? How do we become more humble and gentle and patient?
“to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
The mind is where change must take place.
We face a battle for our minds. I hope you are aware of how your thinking is affected by what you read, what you hear, what you see. Your mind is the battlefield where the enemy is trying to control your life. He uses all the mental input possible to bring you under his domination. The real battle does not concern merely your outward sinful actions, the times you may slip and fall. The real battle goes on in your thinking, day after day after day.
Solomon wrote, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). By heart he was referring not, of course, to the physical heart, but to the inner man, the center of our affection and emotion and all mental experience. What we think, what we store up in our minds, will determine the person we are.
Realize first how pointless the thinking of non-Christians is. This we see in Ephesians 4:17-19.
“I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.”
They are trapped in a blind cycle of meaningless thinking, and they don’t recognize it because they’ve shut their hearts against God. They don’t need God. God is nothing.
I hear the world singing, “I did it my way,” and I say, “Right, and look where you are.” Paul said that those without any sensitivity to God “have given themselves over” to shameful indulgences that never satisfy. They make such choices in their own minds. No one forces them.
Our minds are the battlefield, and in Jesus Christ we have the means for victory. This is outlined in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.
“Though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
In this passage are three important points about the struggle in our thinking. First, the battle for the mind is not won with human efforts. It is not a do-it-yourself project. We have plenty of books on how to do something about our thinking—positive thinking, psychocybernetics, transcendental meditation, and more. They have grains of truth but they aren’t the real source for answers.
Second, we have weapons with divine power. We can’t win the battle alone—but we are not alone. What are these weapons? I believe they are the Holy Spirit—God himself living in us—and the Scriptures, God’s word.
The third point I make is that we have a personal responsibility in this. Our weapons are divine, but we must use them. “We take captive every thought.”
As a counselor I have had people tell me about struggles they’re having in their minds with temptations and lusts and so on, and they say, “I just can’t do anything about it.” Now I could answer that I understand, it’s not as bad as it seems, and so forth. But I can’t say that because the Bible says we can do something about it. No one forces us to think these things. We think about them because we choose to. It is our responsibility to make these thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. God’s Spirit and his word will help us do it.
In exercising this responsibility I must first be willing to change. Knowing that my mind is the control center of who I am, I must guard it. When I get up in the morning, what am I thinking? What controls my thoughts during the day? Am I thinking the way God wants me to?
The Bible is full of teaching about our mind and heart, and I challenge you to look for this as you read the Scriptures and to give serious thought to what you can learn.
1 Peter 1:13 is an example: “Prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled.” As an athlete “psyches” himself up for an event, so we must ready our minds. With the right mental exercise beforehand, we’ll be ready when stress and crises come. We’ll be able to exercise self-control when we’re tempted to be angry or impatient or greedy or unkind or lustful.
How do we exercise our minds? With the Scriptures—reading, meditating on what we read, trying to understand how to apply it to our life. Then we can act with self-control.
In counseling I have had people come to me after falling into immorality and say, “I don’t know how it happened. It just happened.” I try to listen and empathize, but eventually I must say, “You know, I can’t accept that. I cannot accept that it just happened. Let’s find out why it happened.” So we start discovering that weeks or months or years before they began allowing lustful thoughts in their minds. Their desires were stimulated, and one day when the desires had reached a certain point the enemy saw to it that an opportunity arose to satisfy those desires.
I have yet to encounter anyone who fell into immorality without such a thinking process preceding it.
“Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control” (Proverbs 25:28). A city without walls is defenseless, and without self-control we are vulnerable to all kinds of sin. Self-control begins with mental preparedness.
In Romans 12:2 we are again confronted with our personal responsibility in this. We are commanded, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It is a direct statement about something you and I are responsible for. There is a time to pray, “Lord, I need your help in changing my thinking.” But I cannot say, “Lord, you change my thinking.” God has given that responsibility to me.
God gives us the power to choose how we think, and he tells us beforehand what will result. Bad thoughts will produce sin. Choosing God’s thoughts from his word will result in blessing.
Psalm 119, the expression of one who knew and loved God’s word, tells us what happens when we let our minds be filled with Scripture: Purity comes from living according to God’s word (verse 9). His statutes provide counsel (verse 24). His precepts give renewal of life (verse 93) and the understanding that results in a hatred of evil (verse 104).
The psalmist also wrote, “I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes” (Psalm 119:59). Meditation must be followed by action: the decision to turn our steps—and our thoughts—into the way God says. That will make the difference.
I can come home tired from a busy day at work and my wife, being a perfectly normal human being, may say, “I’m having trouble with the car today.” My inner reaction to this can be, Get off my back, will you? I’ve been hassling with people all day. Let the wheels fall off as far as I care. I hate to admit it, but I find myself struggling with impatience.
Now what do I do with that? I have a choice. I could do what I feel like doing and say, “Florine, please, don’t bother me with that right now, will you?” Or I could pray, By your grace, Father, I choose to be patient with my wife now, even though I don’t feel patient. You may say that’s hypocrisy, but I say it’s obedience. There’s a difference. Hypocrisy is doing or saying something I don’t sincerely believe. Obedience is doing what I know is right—even when I don’t feel like doing it.
To choose at that moment to do what I know God wants me to do is to exercise patience with my wife. In the Scriptures God has commanded me to love my wife as Christ loves the church. Love is patient. Being patient at that moment is a way of demonstrating love for my wife. So I make that choice in my mind. It’s a choice no one else can make for me.
Then that source of divine power—the Holy Spirit living in me—gives me the strength to be patient. The moment I make the decision to obey God, his power is turned on in me. And I surprise myself, being patient when I felt so impatient.
The pattern is seen in Ephesians 4:22-24. In Christ, Paul said, “you were taught… to put off your old self…; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self.” I put off the old self when I realize my impatience and decide not to let it develop into words and actions. I bring in a new mental attitude when I recall the scriptural teaching regarding my responsibility for love and patience. And the step of action—putting on the new self—is deciding to obey God, and seeing his spiritual power enable me to exercise patience.
Through the instruction of God’s word and the presence of his Holy Spirit, the possibilities for real change are fantastic.
We can be the people God has called us to be.