Humility Understanding (Ephesians 4:1-3)
Topic: Ephesians Passage: Ephesians 4:1–4:3
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
May 1st, 2016
I. Patience is a Virtue?
At some point when our kids were little, I remember standing in the grocery store check out line, minding my own business, when all of a sudden, the cashier rang up my package of “Number Two” Pampers twice! After quickly recovering from such an outrage (they were like $14 a package!) I was just about to pay when I noticed the cashier calling over the intercom to the manager. The cashier told me the manager had to void out the sale.
As the manager was arriving, I noticed that the line for the “ten items or less” line was starting to grow behind me. Suddenly, the manager looked perplexed. She couldn't find her keys! “Oh, I gave them to Stephanie to open the such and such (something in grocery store lingo).”
Next thing I know, the manager’s on the intercom, calling for her keys. Meanwhile, I can sense the man behind me is inching his way closer to me and getting his items prepped, almost as if to pressure me, like I’m somehow causing the delay. Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, the keys were returned, the sale was voided, the transaction was complete, my groceries were bagged, I was out the door, and all was right with the universe.
Now, let me ask you this. Why might I have grown impatient in that situation? Would you have? And here's a follow-up question: How long do you think my whole check out time was? Interestingly, it was a whopping 90 seconds!
We are told that patience is a virtue. And while that is true, we don’t often hear about how to be patient, or why we should be patient, especially in a culture that seems to breed impatience, where impatience is sometimes seen as a right, or a justifiable reaction to another’s incompetence. This morning, as we continue our series called “Humble Pie”, I’d like to explore the virtue of patience, especially as it relates to humility. Turn over to Ephesians 4.
II. The Passage: “With All Humility...With Patience” (4:1-3)
Listen to what Paul writes to the disciples of Jesus in Ephesus. Verses 1-3. He says...
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Okay. So there are a number of things we need to talk about in these verses. First of all, as we've observed in weeks past, verse 2 helps us see a relationship between patience and humility. Did you notice how the first three words in verse 2 qualify the verb that follow? What will be require and what will it look like to “[bear] with one another in love”?
It will require a humility that gives rise to a gentleness that goes hand in hand with patience. The Greek word that Paul uses here for patience is a world that literally means “a long temper”. In English, we more commonly use the opposite image of someone who has a short temper or a “short fuse”.
But I also want you to see the larger goal of this humble, gentle, patient bearing with. We do this, not only to (v. 1) “walk in a manner worthy of [God's] calling”, but so that we can (v. 3) “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Our 'oneness' as God's people is a precious, precious gift from God, and it should be defining characteristic as shine God's light in a very fractured world.
But to defend and nurture this spiritual, this Spirit-forged unity, we must strive to bear with one another with all humility, gentleness and patience.
But maybe the most important thing we need to talk about in regard to these verses is the word “therefore”. Look again at verse 1: I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called... Why is this so key? Because the therefore points us backward to the first three chapters of this letter. Paul is telling them, “In light of everything I just told you, I urge you to live your lives in a way that reflects the greatness and seriousness and wonder of what God has done in calling you to himself and for His purposes.” Does your life reflect that?
Patience is humility understanding. Or we could say, when we live on a steady diet of God's humble pie, we are understanding of and with those who surround us each day. Instead of impatiently cajoling or condemning others, we bear with them, with gentleness.
Does that sound impossible to you? Do you want to be understanding? To be gentle? To bear with the failings of others? To be patient? Then here's what we need to do: we need to let that “therefore” in verse 1 launch us back into the first half of the book.
You see, if you patience is humility understanding, that understanding understands and embraces some truly astonishing truths that Paul spells out earlier in this letter. So let's explore three passages from Ephesians 1-3 that I believe should, if we embrace them and dwell on them, should make us more patient. Why? Because they should humble us. And genuine humility will express itself in genuine patience.
And so if humility is understanding, what does it first understand. Well...
1. Humility Understands I am Just as Weak as the Next Guy
Look back at Ephesians 2. Beginning in verse 3...
...among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved... For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
When we are not patient, pride causes us to see ourselves as above or better than others. “Why don't you get this? Why does this keep happening? Well, I just got over it! At least I can drive!” That last one hits very close to home. Three or four times yesterday, I found myself talking to drivers who drove like they were in some kind of funeral procession. But I did so as someone who, when it came to driving, supposedly knew better and could do better.
But in Ephesians 2 Paul wipes away those distinctions and reminds us we're all on the same level: forget level ground; we're all together in the swamp of sin. And the one true distinction that matters most, being alive with Christ rather than dead in sin, as we read here, that distinction is completely God's doing. We cannot boast in any way. I am just as weak as the next guy. And accepting that fact should lead me to being patient with the next guy.
Think about it: who would be more patient with a tourist fumbling to speak French in France? A French citizen or another tourist who knew some French? How quick would a recovering alcoholic be to judge another alcoholic who was still drinking? We of all people should bear with the real or perceived weaknesses of others.
Understanding this truth about ourselves really should make us more understanding. But there's something else humility understands as it is expressed in understanding. We see...
2. Humility Understands God Has Way More Pressing Priorities
Look over at chapter 3, verses 8 and 9.
To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,  and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things...
We all have our pressing priorities, don’t we? Things that just have to be done...now. And when the pressure is on, patience is usually off. Listen to what Charles Hummel says about this in his little booklet, “The Tyranny of the Urgent”...
“Have you ever wished for a thirty-hour day? Surely this extra time would relieve the tremendous pressure under which we live. Our lives leave a trail of unfinished tasks...But would that longer they really solve our problem? Wouldn't we soon be just as frustrated as we are now with our twenty-four hour allotment?...When we stop long enough to think about it, we realize that our dilemma goes deeper than shortage of time it is basically a problem of priorities.... An experienced factory manager once said to me "Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important." He didn't realize how hard his advice hit. It has often returned to haunt and rebuked me by raising the critical problem of priorities.”
As we see from these verses, Paul had come to understand what was truly important. His agenda had given way to God's agenda, to God's “plan of the mystery hidden for ages”. And that plan was all about “the unsearchable riches of Christ”. And as we see in verse 8, that plan was focused on the Gentiles, that is, on the nations. What had begun with Israel was now being poured out on all the other nations of the world. The spiritual wealth of Jesus was now available to us!
And so what did it mean that Paul's personal agenda gave way to God's agenda?
Well, as we see here, Paul's life was a focused on preaching, on revealing God's mystery to everyone.
How often are you impatient because your plan is not being realized at your pace? But what happens when you are more concerned about your testimony for Christ rather than your 'to do' list? What happens when people are not obstacles to avoid or assets to exploit, but human beings who desperately need to hear the message of Jesus?
Would you be more patient with a difficult neighbor if your ultimate goal was to show him Jesus rather than getting him to turn his music down or clean up his yard? Brothers and sisters, like Paul, our focus and our commitment should be to God's priorities above our own. We should be focused less on how people are injuring our agenda and focused more on seeing them healed through God’s agenda.
While there are many other gems we could dig out of chapters 1-3, consider one more. If patience is humility understanding, what does it first understand? I think we could say...
3. Humility Understands Every Part of My Life is Purposeful in Him
Listen to the amazing picture Paul paints for us in Ephesians 1:9-11. He writes...
[God was at work]...making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ  as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.  In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will...
So as we saw in chapter 3, God has a plan, an amazing plan for the whole world. And again, just as we saw in chapter 3, that plan, which had been a mystery, is now being revealed to us, “according to [v. 9] his purpose, which he set forth in Christ”. Now notice in these verses what Paul says about “all things”: Verse 10, “all things” will one day be united in Jesus, and verse 11, “all things” are being worked out “according to the counsel of his will”.
Do you know what that means in regard to humility and patience? It means that everything that happens in your life is ultimately purposeful, in terms of God's purpose that is.
I'm not at all a game, that is, I don't spend much time playing video games. Typically the only computer games that I really enjoy playing are the puzzle/adventure games. In this kind of game, every incident, every object, every person is a potential clue, a probable piece of evidence useful in discovering the grand design. When I know this about the game, I am much more likely to...take my time...to look around and think things through.
God has a “grand design” He is working out in this world and in your life, and every thing that happens to you is purposeful in terms of God's purpose.
For me, that includes the slow drivers I was stuck behind yesterday. God had a reason I was in that lane. When I got in the car, I had a destination in mind. But God had his own in mind. He was taking me someplace bigger and better than merely running an errand. His destination for me was and is Jesus.
Think for a minute about the situations in which, and the people with whom, you typically lose your cool. “I have very little patience when it comes to....[fill in the blank]”. “He...she gets me so frustrated!” Now think about that situation as a 'puzzle/adventure' problem. What might it mean? What could be the significance of those frustrating people and circumstances in terms of God's plan for your life?
Maybe when I'm frustrated I can't speed up, God is working to slow me down. I want to bolt, but God wants me to breathe. Maybe when I only see a 'speed bump', God wants me to see a real person; maybe a person who is driving carefully because they were recently in a bad accident, maybe a person whose car is acting up and they're scared because they are struggling financially, maybe an elderly driver who is frightened about the possibility of losing his or her license, maybe a person who is lost in a new city. I believe God simply wanted me and wants me to consider the possibilities.
Because if I can do that while driving, I can do that in all sorts of situations; situations in which I have a chance to respond with all humility and gentleness, with patience; and to reveal Jesus.
III. His Perfect Patience
Speaking of cars and driving, imagine you were in a terrible car accident. Imagine as a result, you were paralyzed from the neck down. And so began a journey in which every day you had to be lifted out of bed, and washed, and dress, and fed, and moved from one place to another. But also imagine that in spite of your angry and bitter attitude, your caregiver did each of these tasks with perfect patience.
Now over time, imagine your heart softens and you are humbled by the reality of your situation and the reality of the amazing care you receive. Do you think, if after all this you found yourself having to help another person who was paralyzed, another person who was angry and bitter, do you think you would be more likely or less likely to be patient with him? I'm guessing that patience would be much more likely in light of the patience you received.
What's behind Paul's appeal to the Ephesians in 4:1-3? Many things, but here's at least one:
But I [writes Paul] received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (I Timothy 1:16)
If you know God through Jesus, if you belong to God through Jesus, then you have and you do experience the “perfect patience” of Jesus Christ, the perfect caregiver. If you want to be more patient with others, dwell on the patience God has demonstrated with you through Jesus Christ. Consider your story. Consider where you were and where you are now. God has been so patient with me. Do you feel the same way about your life?
As he indicates here, is Paul an example for you? No matter who you are, no matter what you've done, God is patiently waiting for you. Go to Him in faith. And as each of us does that, may God nurture in us that inner disposition that springs from a true recognition of my proper position...in light of my weakness, His priorities, and His perfect plan for my life. Paul's prayer in Colossians 1:11 is my prayer for you: May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy...