Second Corinthians and Ephesians

Commentary on the Book of Ephesians

By: Tom Lowe                                              Date: 8/29/17

 

 

Lesson 18: Negative Example: Pagans (Ephesians 4:17-19)

 

Ephesians 4:17-19 (KJV)

 

17 This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,

18 Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:

19 Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

 


Introduction

 

In 4:1-16 Paul has dwelt upon those responsibilities which pertain especially to our relationships within the body of Christ.  At verse 17 he turns to discuss duties, mostly of a moral nature, which concern our relation not only to fellow believers but more especially to the world around us.

 

Born again believers, members of the body of Christ, are new creations.  A believer is a new man; therefore, we are to put off all the clothing, the garments (the life), of the old man [This is the lost man, the unbeliever, called ‘Gentile’ in this passage], and put on the new (born again) man.  The Apostle Paul tells us that we are NOT to live like “Gentiles,” and then in 1 Corinthians 2:14, he tells us why unbelievers CANNOT live like believers do, that is, in a spiritual sense.  “But the natural man (called here “Gentiles”) receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).  The unregenerate man CANNOT receive the things of God because his heart is dead, his mind is blinded by the god of this age, and he cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God.

 

Verses 17, 18, and 19 give us the picture of the unregenerate, and we are NOT to walk as they walk.  By nature, the unregenerate has a mind filled with vanity.  His understanding is darkened.  The heart of the unregenerate is blind.  He has no feeling toward God; he is given over to lasciviousness (sexual desires), uncleanness and self-indulgence.

 

 

Commentary

 

17 This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,

 

In these three verses Paul summarizes the teaching he gives at greater length in Romans 1:18-32.  It is sobering conscious-probing analysis.  It describes the true nature of the world apart from Christ.  It is a catalog of what we all are by nature.  He puts a spiritual stethoscope to our hearts to let us hear that its beat is out of control.

 

The use of the words “therefore” and “walk” points us back to the same words in 4:1{1].  “Testify,” a strong word of solemn appeal, means to insist or implore.  The phrase “in the lord” suggests that Paul is conscious of such a connection with the Lord, that he speaks in the Lord’s name and feels that his words are clothed with divine authority.  The appeal itself is stated both negatively and positively.  The negative part concerns the “walk” of the Gentiles (17-19) [Gentiles, as used here, refers to those who have never had the special revelation of grace]; the positive part revolves around the concept of “truth [as it] is in Jesus” (20-24).

 

Paul insists that his readers must “no longer walk as the Gentiles walk.”  He was saying to the recipients of this letter that they were no longer to live like the Gentiles.  They were now “fellow citizens with the saints” and a part of “the household of God.” Their daily walk must conform to their new relationship.  “No longer” implies that once they lived as the Gentiles.  Now, however, they must renounce the life and wicked ways of their heathen neighbors, and make a clean break with the old bad ways of paganism.

 

The apostle proceeds to enumerate some of the significant features of pagan life in the first century—vanity, darkness, alienation, ignorance, hardness, loss of feeling, lasciviousness, uncleanness, greediness.  It is a grim and revolting picture which he draws, and in many respects it parallels the statement of Romans 1:18“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” The life of the Gentiles, which had once been theirs, is one of spiritual “futility” with “vanity of vanities” written all over it.

 

First, Paul speaks of “the vanity of their mind” and their being “darkened” in “the understanding” (18).  “Vanity” suggest emptiness, futility, and purposelessness—life with no real meaning, no goal.  The thought is not that unregenerate minds are empty.  It is that they are filled with things which lead to nothing.  To have “the understanding darkened” is to be without the faculty of discernment, to be unable to distinguish right and wrong.

 

The language Paul uses here and in the other verses expresses his sense of authority as an apostle.  He speaks emphatically: “I say and testify in the Lord.”  Paul wishes to emphasize his position.  His words constitute the solemn and binding testimony of an apostle speaking as the representative of Christ the Lord and with His full authority.

 

Paul does not spare us in his acute analysis of our sinful condition.  Notice the flow of his logic:

 

Hardness of heart leads to

Ignorance which involves being

Alienated from the life of God which leads to our being

Darkened in our understanding with the result that we become

Callous and

Given up sensuality and thus

Greedy to practice every kind of impurity

 

18 Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:

 

Next, non-Christians are described as “being alienated from the life of God.” They are held in the grip of spiritual death, separated from the life which comes from God.  The cause of this estrangement is twofold; “the ignorance that is in them” and “the blindness of their heart.”  Instead of the word “blindness” most modern versions have “hardness.” The Greek word originally meant “petrifaction” but came eventually to be used by medical writers to represent numbness, insensibility, and callousness.  Here it means insensitivity to spiritual things.

 

Apart from Christ’s work the cosmos was destined to futility (Romans 8:20{2]).  Apart from God’s special revelation the human race was condemned to futility.  It’s every effort to solve the jigsaw puzzle of existence was doomed to frustration.  Satisfaction and fulfillment of existence was doomed to frustration.  Satisfaction and fulfillment sought in the creation rather than in the Creator, worshipping it rather than Him, became the high road to eternal disappointment.

 

19 Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

 

“Being past feeling” continues the idea suggested by “hardness” (17). The word primarily means “to cease to feel pain,” then “to cease to care”—whether through despair or through recklessness.  In this passage it describes, a state of moral insensibility wherein one no longer feels the reproaches of conscience.

 

Being thus destitute of scruples, pagan people gave “themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all [every kind of] uncleanness with greediness.” Two frightful words are used in this statement.  The first is “lasciviousness,” the Greek of which denotes lewd or wanton conduct which shocks public decency.  The man who can be described this way no longer cares to hide his sin; it does not matter to him who sees his shame so long as he can gratify his desires.  The word translated “greediness” is built on a root which means “too have more.” The Greek word describes a disposition which has absolutely no regard for the rights of others.  It is very wide in scope, being used sometimes in reference to material things (translated “covetousness”) and sometimes of such things as sexual indulgence (translated “greediness”), as here.  “It is the spirit of the man,” explains Barkley, “who does not care whom he hurts and what method he uses so long as he gets what he desires.”

 

While unbelievers may affirm that their rejection of the Christian faith is fundamentally a matter of intellectual integrity, Paul stresses that the rebellious disposition of the heart drives and directs the understanding.  Thus the Scriptures tell us something about the unbeliever which he or she tends to deny, suppress and repress—namely that their rejection of God runs contrary to what they know ‘deep down’ to be true (Romans 1:18-23{3]).  Since this was once true of us we need to be reminded to be patient in our witness and to pray for the aluminating and regenerating work of the Spirit as we bear witness to Christ.

 

Scripture and special notes

[1} “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,” (Eph. 4.1)

[2} “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope” (Rom. 8:20).

[3} For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. (Rom. 1:18-23).

 

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