It is significant that Ephesians 4:1-3 is one long sentence. The exhortation to unity (vs. 1), the approach to unity (vv. 2-3) and the platform / basis of unity (vv. 4-6) are all dealt with and are each to be appropriately emphasized. Some are very good at talking about unity. Others have sincerity and kindness but allow virtually anything by way of doctrine. Still others are strongly attached to doctrine and truth, but may lack the attitude and spirit of Christ (which is not right). It’s really important to bring out, “This is a package deal!”
Because God’s calling is not to merely a private relationship with Him but to a life of community and family with other believers, it is essential for Christians to display the kind of qualities that enhance our life together in Christ. The NASB nicely brings out that these 2 verses consist of 2 prepositional phrases followed by 2 participial clauses. Let’s observe from Ephesians 4:2-3 the actions and attitudes to be present in God’s people in exhibiting the unity God desires.
“With all humility” or “lowliness of mind” – This expression is found 7 times in the New Testament (cf. Acts 20:19; Phil. 2:3; Col. 2:18, 23; 3:12; 1 Pet. 5:5). The concept was not regarded as a virtue until the time of Jesus and the early church. See also John 3:30 and Romans 12:3. Few things are more destructive to unity and community than pride and arrogance (Prov. 11:2; Isa. 66:2).
“And gentleness” or “meekness” – The opposite of this term is abrasive, rough and harsh. See the examples of Jesus and Moses in Matthew 11:29 and Numbers 12:3. Involved positively is the idea of submission to God, along with modesty in dealing with others. It appears in the NT only 11 times and only in the epistles (cf. 1 Cor. 4:21; 2 Cor. 10:1; Gal. 5:23; 6:1; Col. 3:12; 2 Tim. 2:25). This person is not angry at the wrong time and way, but exhibits self-control and is not weak. When wrong is committed, this person has the strength and ability to deal with it in a God-honoring way. Think of how important humility and gentleness would be in a church of the first century full of both Jews and Gentiles!
“With patience” or “long-suffering” – Humility, gentleness and patience do not just happen. They are a conscious, mature way of responding to others in Christ. A lack of patience leads to anger, rage, bitterness, evil speaking and desire for vengeance. This word is used of God (Rom. 2:4; 1 Tim. 1:16; 2 Pet. 3:9). Those who preach and teach are to be known for its display (2 Tim. 4:2) and as models of it (2 Cor. 6:6; 2 Tim. 3:10). It ought to characterize every child of God (Gal. 5:22-23; Col. 3:12). We need to have a long fuse with others, especially those also part of God’s family.
“Forbearing one another in love” – In relationships among Christians, some differences are bound to arise. If Christians are to “walk worthily,” forbearing one another in love is a necessity. To “bear with” or “tolerate” are other renderings. Inherent in the expression is the exercise of godly restraint. There is an absence of rash behavior and words; there is no spirit of hatefulness. There is an ability to see a different (but not unbiblical) point of view. See Col. 3:13. This practice is to be done “in love.” Sometimes forbearance might be done resentfully. Here, it’s done “in love.” It is the manner, instrument and motive for our forbearance.
“Being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” – to “make every effort” (NIV). The idea is that of zealous, genuine effort. See 2 Timothy 4:9, 21; Titus 3:12. See also Gal. 2:10; 2 Tim. 2:15; Heb. 4:11. Note the idea is to “keep” or “preserve.” Don’t lose, neglect or destroy the unity made possible by Christ. Here, the term is “unity of the Spirit.” This unity has the Spirit has its Source or Cause. It is initiated by the Spirit through His word (cf.Ephesians 6:17). “In the bond of peace” means to be “bound” together like ligaments and the body or “fastened” like buttons on a garment. Peace is mentioned in Ephesians 8 times (1:2; 2:14, 15, 17, 4:3; 6:15, 23). Just as Paul is “bound” as a prisoner, he desires the church to be “bound” by peace and love in “the unity of the Spirit.”