I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20–23)
We see in John 17 that the unity of the church is important to Jesus. So how do we walk in unity when ethnicity seems to be such a divisive subject? We take some instruction from God’s Word on this in Ephesians:
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. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph. 4:1–6)
In verses 4–6, we notice that, guided by the same Spirit, the apostle’s teaching lines up exactly with what we saw in John 17. He grounds the unity of the church in seven objective realities:
One body. One Spirit. One hope. One Lord. One faith. One baptism. One God and Father.
Paul’s point is that the church in Ephesus is one. God, by his grace, has made them one. They have trusted the one triune God. They were baptized into one body. And this is all according to the one faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Paul is saying, this is what you are, church. Now walk in it. And if you want to know what that looks like, the answer is in Ephesians 4:2: “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.”
There are many conversations about ethnicity in the church today. I see a lot of anger. I see a lot of sarcasm. I see a lot of unforgiveness and mockery. What I don’t see is a lot of humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love.
That’s what the pursuit of unity looks like for the Christian. There are many conversations about ethnicity in the church today. I see a lot of anger. I see a lot of sarcasm. I see a lot of unforgiveness and mockery. What I don’t see is a lot of humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love.
Let’s look at these in turn.
Humility is seeing ourselves rightly before God. In the ethnicity discussion, it means actually listening to those who disagree with us, instead of just waiting to talk so we can get our points in. Humility asks, “Is there anything I can learn from this brother or sister?”
Humility is being willing to admit that what we learned growing up (even in church) was actually wrong. Humility is a willingness to freely acknowledge the wrongs of those who belong to our ethnic group. Humility is an openness to correction when we miss the mark. We would go a long way in the pursuit of ethnic unity if we walked in humility toward each other.
Gentleness is related to the word often translated “meekness,” which is strength under control. It is the disposition of a heart submitted to God. In the ethnicity discussion, it means refusing to lash out in anger toward believers who don’t share our perspective.
Gentleness governs how we speak, knowing that “a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). Gentleness is restrained, rather than explosive. Gentleness resists the temptation to vent, but instead chooses to ask, “Can we pray?” Gentleness is unwilling to sacrifice a relationship for the sake of winning an argument. We would go a long way in the pursuit of ethnic unity if we walked in gentleness toward each other.
The word translated “patience” means “to be long-tempered” as opposed to short-tempered. This is why it’s translated in the King James Version as “longsuffering.” It implies slowness to anger, even in the face of opposition. In the ethnicity discussion, it means not being easily offended by brothers or sisters who speak out of ignorance on the subject.
Patience understands that it takes time for people to grow and is therefore willing to endure the dusty seed in hopes of one day seeing the flower in full bloom. Patience will sit for hours to discuss and work through an issue, even if it doesn’t change the other person’s beliefs, because patience is content with greater understanding being achieved by two siblings in Christ.
Patience resists the urge to be outraged by every misstep or error other Christians make when dealing with ethnicity. We would go a long way in the pursuit of ethnic unity if we walked in patience with each other.
4. Bearing with One Another in Love
Bearing with one another in love means avoiding resentment and bitterness toward our brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we disagree. It’s resisting the impulse to retaliate or punish those who have hurt us. In the ethnicity discussion, it means moving toward—rather than away from—fellow church members who just don’t seem to get it on ethnicity.
Bearing with one another in love means having open arms, ready to extend forgiveness when a believer says something insensitive or hurtful regarding ethnicity.
Bearing with one another in love means not automatically “canceling” a Christian who says something foolish, unhelpful, or even sinful regarding ethnicity. Bearing with one another in love means having open arms, ready to extend forgiveness when a believer says something insensitive or hurtful regarding ethnicity. Bearing with one another in love means pressing through layers of misunderstanding, trusting that God is at work to sanctify both you and the Christian you disagree with. We would go a long way in the pursuit of ethnic unity if we were serious and intentional about bearing with one another in love.
I Can Only Imagine
Imagine what our churches would be like if pastors modeled humility and gentleness when discussing ethnicity. How much progress would be made toward unity if congregations were patient with their pastors in this area? What if Christian personalities were known more for their gentleness than their sarcasm? How much ground would be gained in foreign missions if missionary agencies and missionaries on the front lines were characterized by humility toward the cultures of the ethnic groups they’re trying to reach with the gospel?
What if churches refused to split over nonessential differences because they were committed to bearing with one another in love? Imagine if seminary staff, professors, and presidents took a posture of humility regarding the ethnic sins of founders, treating the students who struggle with that with the utmost gentleness and patience?
Imagine what our churches would be like if pastors modeled humility and gentleness when discussing ethnicity.
What would this world be like if these things were so? My pre-millennial readers will read that and say, “It sounds like Christ has begun his millennial reign!” The rest of us will say it sounds like the new heavens and new earth. All jokes aside, brothers and sisters, we can be sure that this is the very thing that Jesus desires for his church. Careful readers may have noticed as you read the characteristics from Ephesians 4:2 that each one of those virtues is attributed to God elsewhere in Scripture. So in essence, these verses are anticipating Paul’s exhortation a chapter later for Christians to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1).
Concerning these commands, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that all of us fall short on each of these things and that none of us can obey them in our own strength. The good news is that God has forgiven us for our failure in this regard and covered us with the righteousness of Christ, who perfectly modeled how it looks to live a life characterized by perfect humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance. And by his Spirit, he empowers Christians to live out, albeit imperfectly, these virtues as we seek to walk in ethnic unity together. May it be so, for the glory of God.
This article is an adapted excerpt from The New Reformation: Finding Hope in the Fight for Ethnic Unity by Shai Linne (Moody Publishers, 2021). Used by permission.