In the first three chapters of his epistle to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul unfolded the glorious mysteries of God’s love and grace toward His people.
In Chapter 1, Paul highlighted some precious truths. God had chosen us even before the foundation of the world and redeemed us with the precious blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. He also sealed us with the Holy Spirit of promise (Eph. 1: 4-13).
As “children of disobedience” in our sinful, unregenerated state, we were alienated from God (Eph. 2: 1-3). Left on our own, we would never turn to God. But in His sovereign grace, God drew us unto Him: “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) 6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: 7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2: 4-9). In Chapter 3, Paul expressed his earnest desire that all should see God’s glory in His plan of salvation (vv. 10-19).
In Chapter 4, the apostle then called for the Ephesian believers to respond appropriately to their exalted privileges as God’s redeemed people. He began by exhorting them to walk worthy of their calling: “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called” (v. 1). To do this, they must reflect a spirit of love, forbearance and unity (vv. 2-16). Read the following brief summary by commentator Albert Barnes for a better understanding of verses 1-16:
“An exhortation to unity (vv. 1-6). He entreats them to walk worthy of their vocation (v. 1); shows them how it could be done, or what he meant; and that, in order to do that, they should show meekness and kindness (v. 2); and particularly exhorts them to unity (v. 3); for they had one God, one Saviour, one baptism, one religion (vv. 4-6). Paul shows them that God had made ample provision for his people, that they might be sound in the faith, and in unity of life and of doctrine, and need not be driven about with every wind of opinion (vv. 7-16). He assures them that to every Christian is given grace in the Redeemer adapted to his circumstances (v. 7); that the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven to obtain gifts for his people (vv. 8-10); that he had given apostles, prophets, and evangelists, for the very purpose of imparting instruction, and confirming them in the faith of the gospel (vv. 11-12); that this was in order that they might attain to the highest elevation in Christian knowledge and piety (v. 13); and particularly that they might not be driven to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine (vv. 14-16).”
From verses 17-32, Paul provided instructions on how we might walk worthy of our high calling:
o Walk not like the non-believers (vv. 17-19)
“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” (vv. 17-19)
In the above passage, the apostle gave a vivid description of the conduct of those without the Lord. The word “walk” in verse 17 denotes “life” or “conduct”. As Christians, we have been called to live a holy life. Non-believers have no such calling. They live to please themselves. Let us consider their conduct as highlighted by Paul that we may “henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk”:
• They walk “in the vanity of their mind” (v. 17)
The phrase, “vanity of their mind” indicates a mind that is naturally destitute of God. It is a mind that is guided by vain philosophy, foolish imaginations and the dictates of a depraved heart.
The psalmist had this in mind when he wrote: “Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them” (Ps. 39: 6). The phrase, “vain shew” means a shadow that soon vanishes away. The people of the world devise their own plans which they execute with much care and toil. But the end is vanity (Job 15: 31, 33; Ps.78: 33; 94: 11; Prov. 13: 11; 22: 8). “He labours all his life for the profits of riches, and yet in death his riches will not profit him” (William Secker).
• Their understanding is darkened (v. 18)
Because the unregenerate have set God Him aside, they stumble along life’s way with no guide nor light in life. Loving darkness rather than light, they become foolish and ignorant in all their ways: “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (Jn. 3: 19); “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” (Rom. 1: 21-22).
• Their consciences are seared (v. 19)
Their consciences become seared and insensitive. “Who being past feeling” has the idea of senselessness and hopelessness – the ultimate result of a long process of yielding to their sinful indulgences. “Lasciviousness” means giving oneself over to vileness in the realm of thoughts and deeds. Having no sense of their sin nor the judgment awaiting them, they become slaves to sin as they cater to their fleshly lusts – “working all uncleanness with greediness”.
“When men’s consciences are not bound, 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? This was the character of the Gentiles” (Matthew Henry).
Let us take heed to the above exhortations. Make a clean break with our old life. Before our conversion, we lived like the non-believers. We were blind and ignorant. Like them, we walked in darkness and were the servants of sin. Now that the Lord has enlightened and saved us, let our daily conduct conform to our new life in Christ. We may live and work among unbelievers, but we must not live like them. May the Lord help us to live a life that is pleasing to Him. (… to be continued)