This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you from now on walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,…
This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord. It is characteristic of the apostle to sink his own personality, and to put forward Christ. He wishes it to be understood that it is not in his own thought, but in the thought of him whom he calls Lord, that he makes his statement and gives his solemn asseveration regarding their duty.
I. EXHORTATION DIRECTED AGAINST GENTILISM. "That ye no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk." They had formerly been Gentiles in walk or character, as Gentiles in name. Now they were religiously the people of God. It became them, therefore, to have done with Gentile ways.
1. General character of Gentilism. "In the vanity of their mind." That was the moral atmosphere with which they were surrounded. In Romans 1:21 it is said that they "became vain in their reasonings." The word translated "mind clearly refers to the governing part of the nature. And the meaning is that they wasted their rational powers on worthless objects." They were made to have to do with great realities; but they were taken up instead with vanities. They were made to worship God, "who is, and is the Rewarder of them that diligently seek him ;" but they were idolaters, making gods of things that were not. They were made for immortality; but amid the trifles of time they had little or no thought of a hereafter. Of the most privileged populace in ancient heathenism it is said that "they spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing."
(1) Gentilism on its intellectual side. "Being darkened in their understanding." We are not to understand that they were unable to use their intellectual powers. For though heathenism has been largely associated with degradation of intellect, yet there have been some marked intellectual developments in the heathen world. A pagan, such as Euclid, was able most successfully to prosecute mathematical science. But it is true that, as they came near the center of human interest, they were dimmed in their vision, they were enveloped in darkness. For want of the Divine light they had no right conception of God, or of the meaning of human life. They called evil good, and good evil; they put darkness for light, and light for darkness.
(2) Gentilism on its practical side. "Alienated from the life of God," There was much inertness with which heathenism was chargeable. But at the same time, it is true that there were busy mercantile cities in the old heathen world. And a very great amount of energy was spent by heathen peoples on war. It can only he said that their higher energies were not called forth, and that none of their energies (not even those directed to ordinarily useful pursuits) were penetrated with the life of God. They were alienated from that life, self-pleasing having taken the place of the glory of God; and therefore in all their energies there was the coldness of death, the rottenness of the grave. These two clauses on which we have been commenting are closely related. For what is light but the life of God within the intellectual sphere? And what again is it that utilizes our energies but light? There are subjoined now other two clauses of a causal nature. "Because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart." It does not seem natural to connect these two clauses with only the second of the preceding clauses. But rather retaining both in our mind, are we to connect the ignorance that is in them with the darkening of their understanding, and the hardening of their heart with their alienation from the life of God. It is true that ignorance is a form of spiritual darkness, but not otherwise than hardening is a form of spiritual death. Ignorance is both a result and a cause. And, in so far as it has resulted from a refusal to have light, it is a cause from which there is not dissociated blame. As an abiding state (the result of a previous course), it is a source whence there is a perpetual irruption of darkness within the circle of the thoughts. Hardening of the heart also is both a result and a cause. It has been defined as such a suppression of moral and religions feeling as to imply a total disregard of Divine calls and warnings, and an insensibility to their importance? In so far as obduracy is formed, it has resulted from disregard of calls and warnings, and therefore it may be assigned as a cause (with which blame is associated) for alienation from the life of God. By cultivating sensitiveness to good we prevent hardening in evil, and therefore hardening is blameworthy.
2. Gentilism in its most offensive form. "Who being past feeling." This was one form of the hardening. The result of a course of dissoluteness was that they were past all feeling, i.e. of shame. That feeling of shame is given as guardian of the purity of the body. But habitually disregarded, it is lost. "Gave themselves up to lasciviousness." Such was their fearful self-abandonment. Instead of abandoning themselves to God (which would have been deliverance from all possible thraldom), they abandoned themselves to what (with specialty) is called lust. That is, they made a god of lust. They degraded self, their glorious personality, by. making it a means to lust. Thus abandoned to lust, it became their conscious aim or business " to work all uncleanness." And that does not complete the description of their guilt and degradation. For it is added, as indicating the frame of mind in which they wrought uncleanness, that they did it "with greediness." And there is no reason to think that this description, or the description in Romans 1., is exaggerated, Not that there were not some virtuous heathen; but impurity was so rife as to be characteristic of heathenism. And when it is considered how it was not an object of public reprobation, and how it was associated with religion and also with art, it can be understood what foul shapes (amid a certain refinement and luxury) it would take.
II. EPHESIANS REMINDED HOW GENTILISM IS CONTRADICTED BY CHRISTIANITY. "But ye did not so learn Christ." It will be observed that Christ is not put forward here as our Teacher, but as our Lesson. It is stronger language than is employed by Christ when he says, "Learn of me," where he puts himself forward as our Example. It corresponds to what the apostle says in 1 Corinthians 1:23, "We preach [not 'concerning,' but] Christ crucified." A lesson is what we have to get into our minds; so we have, as it were, to acquire or get into ourselves, by learning, the person of Christ himself. There is the commencement of the lesson. "If so be that ye heard him? In this clause Christ is put forward as the Teacher of the lesson. They heard him when they were converted. At such a critical time it becomes us to know what we are really doing, under whose instructions we are putting ourselves. A parent sees to his son being put to a school or university where he thinks he will get for him satisfactory instruction. So we should be sure, as taught here, that at the great turning-point it was not the voice of a hireling or the mere echo of our own voice that we heard, but the voice of him who has authority to speak to us. There is the lesson in its continuance. "And were taught in him, even as truth is in Jesus." This refers to the further instruction which they had received as those who had heard Christ. Here again Christ is the Lesson - "taught in him," as we might say taught in languages or in philosophy. And not merely so, but the historical Jesus is pointed to as the embodied Lesson - "even as truth is in Jesus." He contains all the truth of God, and especially as he is brought before us in the Gospels, all that we need to know for salvation. He is a Lesson we cannot learn in a lay or in a lifetime. Even eternity will not suffice to exhaust its contents. But let us learn Christ as we can now, in the excellence of his character, in the greatness of his work, and in the purport of his doctrine.
1. Christianity in its negative aspect. "That ye put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, which waxeth corrupt after the lusts of deceit." He has in view, it will be seen, their former, i.e. their Gentile or pre-Christian manner of life. In this he sees what he calls the old man, viz. the sinful type of humanity. Originating in opposition to God, there is a type (such as there is in the development of a tree) according to which the corrupt development goes forward. There is a necessity of nature or of Divine government by which, as sinners, we grow worse and worse, and in the way in which we grow worse and worse. There is a law (appointed order) of sin and death under which we are placed. With the same essential type in all sinners, the corrupt development takes a special form from the lust (or desire in a sinful state) that is dominant, whether it is what is called lust, or the lust of money, or the lust of power. These lusts all agree in being intimately connected with or in the service of deceit. That is to say, under different disguises, we are promising ourselves independence and satisfaction, or making ourselves believe that we axe pleasing God or benefiting men while really all our relations are wrong. The old man, then, as truth as it is in Jesus requires, is to be put away. That is better than the old translation. We axe not merely to put it off, as we put off our clothes at night; but we are to put it away, as an old garment never to be put on again.
2. Christianity in its positive aspect. "And that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, which after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth." The new man is the type of redeemed humanity, or, as it is put, "the holy form of human life which results from redemption." A condition of this is renewing in the spirit of the mind. We are not to interpret this as though it were renewed by the Spirit in the mind. The spirit is the center where we appropriate the blessing of redemption, where we choose Christ instead of self, where we put ourselves in a right relation to the holy type of humanity. We are taught that renewal must be from within outwards. If there is only life lingering at the outside, it will never penetrate from thence to the center. But if there is still life at the center, though the old forms may have to be cast away, it will clothe itself in new forms. The new man is described as that which hath been created. In one view of it, this is what Christ did in his work. He created a holy type, which may be assumed by us sinners. And that was surely creation by pre-eminence. It was creation after God, even as man was created at first in the image of God. And we are here helped to the understanding of what that image was. It did not consist in anything accidental, but it consisted in what is most essential (what presupposes free-will), viz. rightness of moral disposition. It is here referred to as righteousness and holiness of truth. "Righteousness betokens a just relation among the powers of the soul within and towards men and duties without. But holiness betokens the integrity of the spiritual life, and the piety towards God of which that is the condition." There is a truth in such relations upon which righteousness and holiness are founded. We are made with a subordination of our lower powers to our higher. We are made to be mutually helpful. And we are made to be dependent on God and to trust in him. In all these respects man was rightly dispositioned at first. And what we lost in Adam we have more than regained in Christ in the creation of the new man. This new man, then, let us put on as that which we are never to put off. Let us pray for a constant renewing in the spirit of our mind, that, after God, we may have righteousness and holiness of truth - that every relation which God has made for us may be honored by us. - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,