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Bible read me 4The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Ephesians 4:17-24

The New Life

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self,[a] which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

——————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s imprisonment when he wrote this letter and his instruction to the Ephesians to not become despondent because of his own plight; he was suffering for their glory as new Christians.

The first three chapters of Ephesians focus on the divine mystery of the Church and our privilege to be members of the body of believers. The second three chapters address our responsibilities as Christians.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

We have gone through the former part of this epistle, which consists of several important doctrinal truths, contained in the three preceding chapters. We enter now on the latter part of it, in which we have the most weighty and serious exhortations that can be given. We may observe that in this, as in most others of Paul’s epistles, the former part is doctrinal, and fitted to inform the minds of men in the great truths and doctrines of the gospel, the latter is practical, and designed for the direction of their lives and manners, all Christians being bound to endeavour after soundness in the faith, and regularity in life and practice. In what has gone before we have heard of Christian privileges, which are the matter of our comfort. In what follows we shall hear of Christian duties, and what the Lord our God requires of us in consideration of such privileges vouchsafed to us. The best way to understand the mysteries and partake of the privileges of which we have read before is conscientiously to practise the duties prescribed to us in what follows: as, on the other hand, a serious consideration and belief of the doctrines that have been taught us in the foregoing chapters will be a good foundation on which to build the practice of the duties prescribed in those which are yet before us. Christian faith and Christian practice mutually befriend each other. In this chapter we have divers exhortations to important duties. I. One that is more general, Ephesians 4:1. II. An exhortation to mutual love, unity, and concord, with the proper means and motives to promote them, Ephesians 4:2-16. III. An exhortation to Christian purity and holiness of life; and that both more general (Ephesians 4:17-24) and in several particular instances, Ephesians 4:25-32.

Of today’s verses, John MacArthur tells us:

Now in the first part … verses 17 to 19, you have a description of the way things are. In fact, when Stephanie called me early in the week and said, “Can you give me a title for your sermon?” I said, “Here’s the title: ‘What Is Wrong with Everybody?’ ‘What Is Wrong with Everybody?’” Well, that’s basically described in verses 17 to 19. What salvation does is described in verses 22 to 24. But in between 17 to 19 (which describes the whole world in sin) and verses 22 to 24 (which describe the saints) is verses 20 and 21, and that speaks of salvation. Salvation is the dividing point

So verses 20 and 21 look at the work of God in salvation; and that is what transforms people from what they were, verses 17 to 19, to what they are in Christ, verses 22 to 24. The moment of your salvation is the transformation miracle. Not a process, not a process; it’s an event. It’s a divine, supernatural event in which you were transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s dear Son, in which you ceased to be a member of the children of Satan, and you became a member of the family of God. It all happened in the moment of your salvation.

And, yes, his sermon is indeed called ‘What is wrong with everybody?’

Here are the opening verses of Ephesians 4. Verses 4 through 6 feature in one of the celebrant’s prayers in the Catholic Mass and the modern Anglican liturgy:

Unity in the Body of Christ

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— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
    and he gave gifts to men.”[a]

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?[b] 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds[c] and teachers,[d] 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,[e] to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Paul tells the Ephesians that they must no longer walk in the ways of the Gentiles, in the futility of their minds (verse 17).

Henry interprets the verse succinctly:

Converted Gentiles must not live as unconverted Gentiles do. Though they live among them, they must not live like them.

Paul says that unconverted Gentiles are darkened — blinded — in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because they are ignorant; their ignorance comes from their own hardened hearts (verse 18).

In short, they love their sin too much to come to the light and truth that is Christ Jesus.

Henry explains:

They sat in darkness, and they loved it rather than light: and by their ignorance they were alienated from the life of God. They were estranged from, and had a dislike and aversion to, a life of holiness, which is not only that way of life which God requires and approves, and by which we live to him, but which resembles God himself, in his purity, righteousness, truth, and goodness. Their wilful ignorance was the cause of their estrangement from this life of God, which begins in light and knowledge. Gross and affected ignorance is destructive to religion and godliness. And what was the cause of their being thus ignorant? It was because of the blindness or the hardness of their heart. It was not because God did not make himself known to them by his works, but because they would not admit the instructive rays of the divine light. They were ignorant because they would be so. Their ignorance proceeded from their obstinacy and the hardness of their hearts, their resisting the light and rejecting all the means of illumination and knowledge.

The unconverted Gentiles have become callous in their behaviour and have given themselves up to sensuality, eager to satisfy themselves with every type of impurity (verse 19).

Henry gives us this analysis, which sounds a lot like today’s world:

They had no sense of their sin, nor of the misery and danger of their case by means of it; whereupon they gave themselves over unto lasciviousness. They indulged themselves in their filthy lusts; and, yielding themselves up to the dominion of these, they became the slaves and drudges of sin and the devil, working all uncleanness with greediness. They made it their common practice to commit all sorts of uncleanness, and even the most unnatural and monstrous sins, and that with insatiable desires. Observe, When men’s consciences are once seared, there are no bounds to their sins. When they set their hearts upon the gratification of their lusts, what can be expected but the most abominable sensuality and lewdness, and that their horrid enormities will abound?

MacArthur addresses verses 17 and 18, discussing our social malaise in the 21st century. Readers will be interested to know that he delivered this sermon on March 6, 2022, so it could not be more current:

What’s wrong with everybody? What’s wrong with everybody? Why is the world such an evil, chaotic, dark, demonic place? What’s wrong with everybody? I checked, this week, Journal of Psychology, and they agreed that everybody’s basically good. So you can wipe out that field.

What’s wrong with everybody is laid out here. This has to be understood. You’re different; you’re new. This is the testimony of Paul, by the way, according to verse 17, and also the testimony of the Lord. The Lord affirms this.

Now look at the word Gentiles—“You no longer walk . . . as the Gentiles.” That’s ethnē, ethnicities. Again, there’s only one race, and there are many ethnicities; only one human race in various shades of brown, depending on how much melanin you have or don’t have. But there is not only unity over the physical nature in humanity, there is unity over the spiritual nature of humanity: They are all sinners, the whole human race, the whole human race.

But because of the calling that we have received from God, because of the unity we have in the truth, because of the truth that is written and the truth incarnate in Christ, because of the privileges of being granted spiritual gifts, because we have been graced by God to be a part of the body of Christ, because of the presence of the Holy Spirit conforming us to Christ—everything he’s been talking about in the first part of chapter 4—because of the responsibility to speak the truth in love, we can’t live the way we used to live. You can be sucked back in; you can be drawn back in. It will never be the pattern of your life; it’ll never be the unbroken pattern of your life. But the corrupt world tries to seduce you, tries to pull you in; but you’ll never again become a slave of sin. You’ve been transformed. John said in 1 John, if anyone goes out from us, it only manifests they never were of us—because you’re a new creation, and that’s eternal. All ethnicities are hostile to God, all ethnicities, dominated by pride, greed, lust, selfish pleasure—the whole human race, including us before our conversion.

Paul then exclaims that that is not what the Ephesians learned about Christ (verse 20), assuming they have heard about Him and were taught in Him, as the truth resides in Jesus (verse 21).

MacArthur says:

It’s a mind game. It’s about the truth coming to the mind so that there’s understanding. If you’re a Christian, according to what we just saw in verses 20 and 21, you were reprogrammed. You learned Christ, you heard Him speak to you through His Word, and you learned your lesson by the power of the Holy Spirit, and you embraced the truth that’s in Jesus. And that totally transformed you.

But let’s talk about the way people are. First of all, verse 17, they’re selfish. They “walk”—meaning daily conduct—“in the futility of their mind.” Their thinking is so warped. And I think it’s the possessive pronoun here that we ought to focus on: “their” mind. This is what happens to sinful people: They think they are the source of truth. They don’t subject themselves to the truth of God. They reject the truth of God—again, Romans 1. So their mind is basically the purveyor of their philosophy, theology, and religion. And if you think you are the source of truth, you are insane.

But this is not new. Back in the Old Testament, “Everybody did that which was right in his own”—what?—“in his own eyes.” This is what people do; they worship themselves. And it’s futile, futile, although it’s based on the wretchedness of human pride. The word futile doesn’t mean pride or conceit, it means that which is useless, that which is worthless, empty, void, vain.

If you want to live a vain, empty, void, meaningless, useless, worthless life, then just live in your own head; just decide that everything that you can think of is the way reality is.

The imagery of the old self and the new self in the next three verses is splendid. Paul refers to our old wardrobe of sinful clothes and a wonderful set of new clothes of godliness.

Paul tells the Ephesians that they are to put (take) off their old self — ‘man’ in some translations — which refers to their unregenerated souls, which deceitful desires have corrupted (verse 22).

Henry says:

Here the apostle expresses himself in metaphors taken from garments. The principles, habits, and dispositions of the soul must be changed, before there can be a saving change of the life. There must be sanctification, which consists of these two things:– (1.) The old man must be put off. The corrupt nature is called a man, because, like the human body, it consists of divers parts, mutually supporting and strengthening one another. It is the old man, as old Adam, from whom we derive it. It is bred in the bone, and we brought it into the world with us. It is subtle as the old man; but in all God’s saints decaying and withering as an old man, and ready to pass away. It is said to be corrupt; for sin in the soul is the corruption of its faculties: and, where it is not mortified, it grows daily worse and worse, and so tends to destruction. According to the deceitful lusts. Sinful inclinations and desires are deceitful lusts: they promise men happiness, but render them more miserable, and if not subdued and mortified betray them into destruction. These therefore must be put off as an old garment that we should be ashamed to be seen in: they must be subdued and mortified. These lusts prevailed against them in their former conversation, that is, during their state of unregeneracy and heathenism.

Paul calls on the Ephesians to be renewed in the spirit of their regenerated minds (verse 23) and to put on a new self, created in the likeness of God in righteousness and holiness (verse 24).

Henry tells us:

(2.) The new man must be put on. It is not enough to shake off corrupt principles, but we must be actuated by gracious ones. We must embrace them, espouse them, and get them written on our hearts: it is not enough to cease to do evil, but we must learn to do well. “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind (Ephesians 4:23; Ephesians 4:23); that is, use the proper and prescribed means in order to have the mind, which is a spirit, renewed more and more.” And that you put on the new man, Ephesians 4:24; Ephesians 4:24. By the new man is meant the new nature, the new creature, which is actuated by a new principle, even regenerating grace, enabling a man to lead a new life, that life of righteousness and holiness which Christianity requires. This new man is created, or produced out of confusion and emptiness, by God’s almighty power, whose workmanship it is, truly excellent and beautiful. After God, in imitation of him, and in conformity to that grand exemplar and pattern. The loss of God’s image upon the soul was both the sinfulness and misery of man’s fallen state; and that resemblance which it bears to God is the beauty, the glory, and the happiness, of the new creature. In righteousness towards men, including all the duties of the second table [of the Ten Commandments]; and in holiness towards God, signifying a sincere obedience to the commands of the first table; true holiness in opposition to the outward and ceremonial holiness of the Jews. We are said to put on this new man when, in the use of all God’s appointed means, we are endeavouring after this divine nature, this new creature. This is the more general exhortation to purity and holiness of heart and life.

MacArthur further interpreted these verses in line with our world today. He explains the original Greek text:

People are just fools; they think they’re wise. And the universities are the places where all the deceived PhDs are, who are espousing things that they think are wise, when they are the leading fools. Colossians 2:18 describes this futility of mind as “inflated without cause by his fleshly mind.” Peter says, however, 1 Peter 1:18, we have been redeemed from the futile way of life.

So what’s wrong with everybody? They’re selfish. They want to design their own standard of morality, invent their own religion. They want to be their own god. Secondly, Paul says, they’re consequently senseless: verse 18, “Being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart.” Darkened, excluded, ignorant, and hard-hearted. This makes you into a senseless brick.

Lost in the foolishness of their own mind, they become senseless, and their senselessness is perpetuated until it becomes hardness. “Darkened in their understanding”—skotoō, it means “to darken or blind.” They are blind, and in their blindness they continue down a path of blindness that is defined next as being “excluded from the life of God,” which is another way of saying they are dead, they are dead.

They’re dead and blind, estranged from God, and it takes them down a path of the hardness of heart. “Hardness of heart,” pōrōsis in the Greek, from pōrōs, which meant a very, very hard stone or was used to describe the tissue that developed when bones were fused together and became very hard. It meant “to be hard without feeling.” “Same sun that melts the wax hardens the clay.” You hear the truth and resist the truth, and what should melt your heart hardens it. When sin is ignored, when conscience is silenced, when guilt and conviction are not permitted, the heart grows harder and harder and harder, conscience becomes scarred. And we are warned in Hebrews 3 and 4, “Don’t harden your heart. Don’t harden your heart.” It’s deadly, it’s deadly.

What’s wrong with everybody? They’re selfish, and they are senseless. Thirdly, they’re shameless. In verse 19, “They . . . become callous.” This means being past feeling. They don’t feel anything. In fact, their callousness is so severe that Philippians 3:19 says this—this is a stunning statement: “Their glory is in their shame.” “Their glory is in their shame.” They are shameless. “Their glory is in their shame.” They parade their shame. What they should be ashamed of is what they parade. This whole culture does that. The Internet is just full of it: people parading shame. What people should be ashamed of is their glory, their claim to fame. The verb here, apalgeō, means “to cease to feel pain.”

Selfishness leads to senselessness, and senselessness develops into shamelessness. Then you’re into verse 19: sensual. “They, having become callous,” or shameless, “have given themselves over to sensuality,” which releases “the practice of every kind of filthiness with greediness.” They literally hand themselves over. This is self-inflicted; they hand themselves over. So selfish, so senseless, so shameless, they hand themselves over to sensuality.

The word there for “sensuality” is aselgeia, and it means basically “an unrestrained life.” It’s a step beyond shame, which is a step beyond senselessness. This is the disposition of the soul where selfishness, senselessness, and shamelessness reach their ultimate expression. There’s no restraint; you flaunt everything.

Our culture is there, where people are proud of their perversions. They want to make sure nobody restrains them. They practice every kind of impurity, akatharsia, every kind of uncleanness, every kind of filthiness, and they do it “with greediness”; they can’t get enough filthiness. “Greediness” is pleonexia, which is the insatiable craving, the uncontrolled appetite, the unsatisfied passion. This is what’s wrong with everybody.

Here are the closing verses of Ephesians 4 and the first two verses of Ephesians 5, which are read in Year B on a Sunday in the season of Pentecost:

25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Walk in Love

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Verse 30 is particularly apposite, as this post appears on Pentecost Sunday 2022.

Paul has more behaviours for the Ephesians — and us — to shun. More on those next week.

Next time — Ephesians 5:3-7

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