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Feb 3 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 25, 2015 – Ephesians 4:17-19

“Just Walk Away”

So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 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; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. Ephesians 4:17-19

Intro: In verse 1, Paul began to focus on the “Christian walk”

Walk is used metaphorically–i.e., how we make our way through life
– Paul’s concern is to emphasize and explore the fact that Christian spirituality requires a practice
• for example, many of us have adopted a practice of silent prayer
◦ we quiet our thoughts to become open and receptive to God for for ten minutes every day
• the purpose of practices like this is to sharpen and deepen our experience of God
◦ practice is one way to make spirituality “practical” — a reality rather than intention
– Paul’s first instruction regarding our walk is that it is to be consistent with our calling
• that would indicate having a practice that is defined by our spiritual identity and destiny

Although the same theme is carried forward here, we now see its negative image
– Paul tells us how not to walk (what he describes seems to be the progression of degradation)
• we can think of this as the “bad news” (we know that gospel means good news)
◦ this is a “walk” that is inconsistent with our spiritual identity and destiny
• in a way, this passage could be an answer to the question, “What’s wrong with our world?”
– it may be helpful if we do not think of Gentile as an ethnic label
• the religious mentality tends to divide humankind into two groups:
◦ good and bad, Jew and Gentile – or even Christian and pagan
◦ but according to Paul, Jews could also be “hardened” and “ignorant” (Ro. 10:2-3; 11:25)
• let’s think instead of Gentile as a spiritual state of being separate from God
◦ and Paul assumed that this letter was being sent to “former” Gentiles (Ep. 2:11)
(and we must remember we’re not entirely free of this ourselves)
◦ with that in mind, what can be said about how the Gentiles walk?

Theirs is a walk characterized by futility

Paul uses the phrase “I affirm” or (literally) “testify in the Lord” – to add force to his words
– looking for the primary source of Gentile condition, what Paul sees is the “futility of their mind”
• this word could be translated “emptiness” or “meaninglessness”
◦ for Paul, this explains what follows, namely, why they live as they do
• a whole course of lessons is devoted to this them in the Hebrew Scriptures–i.e., Ecclesiastes
◦ according to this mind-set there’s no ultimate value to our actions
◦ it makes no difference if you have integrity or you’re a cheat

“Meaningless! Meaningless! says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” (Ecc. 1:2, NIV)

It is the same for all. There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked; for the good, for the clean and for the unclean; for the man who offers a sacrifice and for the one who does not sacrifice. . . . This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men. (Ecc. 9:2)

I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all. (Ecc. 9:11)

• what follows the Gentile futility of mind is a mad attempt to fill the meaning gap
◦ or to replace meaning with ego-gratifying and sensual diversions

Theirs is a walk closed off to what is most important

In medicine, “etiology” is the identification of the cause of a disease
– Paul does something like that here – he finds the cause of worldly futility
• a disability: their “understanding,” or ability to think through, is darkened
◦ as a result, they’re “alienated” from God — this explains their loss of meaning
• Paul sees two causes for this disability (“because,” “because”)
◦ the ignorance that is in them and their hardness of heart
– the Greek word for hardness means to form a callus – over time, skin thickens
• to some degree, the feeling of a stimulus is blocked
◦ the phrase, “having become callous” in verse 19 is “lost all sensitivity” in the NRSV
◦ it also means “despondent” or past caring
• once you stop feeling, eventually you stop caring
◦ hardened hearts are strengthened in its resistance to God

Theirs is a walk that is driven by insatiable neediness

Paul says they “have given themselves over to sensuality”
– theirs is the desperate attempt to feel alive or to at least feel something
• as with substance abuse, more and more consumption are required, yet produce less and less pleasure
– “greediness” – always wanting and trying to grab hold of more

It sounds as if Paul were describing the final stages of the disease
– earlier symptoms may not have been as pronounced
• then it was easier for the disease to go undetected and undiagnosed
• but I suspect Paul is going after something else
– it’s possible our greatest threat is not our behavior but our illusions
• our illusions that:
◦ our indulgences offer greater rewards than God
◦ our happiness depends on satisfying our drives and desires
◦ that there’s no harm in being like everyone else
• Paul pulls off mask to expose what’s underneath the lies we tell ourselves

Verses 20-24 act as a turning point in Paul’s argument

We will return to this next week, because of its importance
– for now notice his emphasis on education (“learn Christ”) and truth (“truth is in Jesus”)
• it is Jesus who moves us from illusion to reality
• our education includes important lessons we learn about ourselves
◦ for example, we live in tension between an old self and a new self
◦ but more on that next week

Returning to the question, “What’s wrong with our world?”

Paul, to some extent, has opened up an answer
– but he also says, we cannot fix the world
• what we must do is face what is wrong with ourselves
• we’ve been thrown into a cosmic conflict
◦ but we face it at our door and in ourselves (Ep. 2:1-2)

Conc: Some of us have made a startling discover in contemplative prayer

It is not all love, joy and basking in the reverie of God’s presence
– it’s not all deep spiritual insight and divine intimacy
• some dark realities rise to the surface — broken and sinful places in us are exposed
• contemplative prayer can wound or open an old wound
◦ the Spirit of God, to whom we surrender in prayer, wounds to heal

Come, let us return to the LORD.
For He has torn us, but He will heal us;
He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. (Ho. 6:1)

As James Finley observed, “It is in actually committing ourselves to daily meditation that we come face-to-face with the realities of how deeply entrenched our tendencies to remain identified with ego consciousness are.”

– if we are responsive to the Spirit, we will benefit from this process
• we will learn to allow ourselves to feel again and to care
• allow ourselves to hear God’s Spirit reveal what has been hidden deep within:
◦ “This is where you’re thinking is flawed”
◦ “This is where you’re ego has been deceiving you”
◦ “Your family, friends, neighbors need you, but you have been closed off”
– we can allow ourselves to hear the bad news, so once again we can hear the good news like first time
• hear the good news as salvation, healing, freedom and fullness

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