In Ephesians 4:1-16, Paul has dealt with our relationships in the body of Christ – the church. While not yet finalized, God has already begun to display His manifold wisdom, character, and nature through the church. It is in the church that the world is to see the glory of God and come to believe (Jn 17:17-23). This is why the church’s unity and growth to maturity – through the ministry of the Word – are so important. Called together as “one new man,” holy, and set apart, we have become a different people; but now Paul will go on and insist that we must look like the different, holy, unified people that we are called to be, in all purity.
Paul opens this new section on the church’s purity in the same manner that he opened the section on unity, with an assertion, claiming the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ: This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord… (4:17). His teaching in this section can be summarized in a single sentence: You cannot be the same as other people, because you are not the same as other people! The Bible is not an instruction manual on how to become a different or better person; rather it tells you that you are a different person, and be in practice what you are in fact! Simply stated, a believer is not going to look, sound, and live like the Gentiles – ignorant of God, without God in their any of their thoughts, and void of any eternal perspective. Unlike the Gentile pagan, the mind and life of the Christian is God-centered and eternity-focused. You come to Christ because of conviction of sin and a need for forgiveness, but as you go on with Him, you realize that He has done more for you in salvation than you could ever imagine – changing your very nature. Now as “fellow citizens with the saints” and “part of the household of God” (2:19), Paul admonishes us that we no longer live the life we once did, as our pagan neighbors still do, and see to it that our daily walk conforms to our new identity.
There are three characteristics of Gentiles that are addressed in this section. First, it speaks of: the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened (4:17-18). It’s not that the unregenerate mind is empty, but that it is filled with good-for-nothing notions, with no faculty for discernment. Secondly, the pagan Gentile is described as, being alienated from the life of God (4:18); that is they are insensitive to spiritual things, in the grips of spiritual death. This is based upon the blindness of their hearts. Thirdly, they are described as, being past feeling (4:19); that is they cease to care – no longer even caring to hide their sin; whether through despair or wantonness, they no longer feel the reproach of their own conscience; they have lost their feeling of any shame. Having given themselves over to lewdness, (4:19) describes the kind of behavior that shocks public decorum with absolutely no regard for civility or the rights of others – he does not care whom he hurts, as long as he can freely express himself.
In this section Paul summarizes the lengthier teaching of Romans 1:18-32, wherein he catalogs what we all are by nature. This week read Romans 1:18-32 and Ephesians 4:17-19 and compare them side by side and trace the path of sin from obstinacy to recklessness.
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