Ephesians Study, Part 31: Minds with Understanding Darkened


Last week, Paul taught us that the Church leadership, something God gave the Church as a gift, is not given in order to do the work of the Church, but to train and equip the members of the body to do the work of the Church.  And I blamed the lack of the growth of many local churches to the biblical illiteracy of the people in the pews, who are the ones responsible for the growth of the Church. 

Then Paul gave us a way to measure our Christian growth, our maturity.  He said to compare ourselves to Jesus, and see how we measure up.  We saw that I did not measure up well.  I spared the rest of you the comparison, but I think you mentally found yourself in the same boat compared to the First Corinthians 13:4-8 verses about love.  That is where we could substitute Jesus for love, and it read just fine, but if we substituted Larry, I couldn't even read it, it did not work.  We concluded with the understanding that we can not match Jesus, but the measurement is, how close are you?  Are you even trying? 

Then Paul told us that we need to be mature, not like children whose belief can be blown every which way, the Christian fad of the month, nor governed in our Christian walk by experiences instead of by what the Bible teaches. 

Then Paul told us that we should be living out the Truth of Christianity and that that life should be couched in Love for our fellow man.  Our faith is a gift, not a weapon; it should be used to help others, not to beat them up. 

As we finished with verse 16 of Chapter 4, Paul sort of told us that love is the circulatory system of the body of Christ, using the analogy of the human body as a model of the body of Christ, the body of believers.

Today's Lesson: Minds with Understanding Darkened

Now let's pick up with verse 17.

In verse 17 Paul starts off with the phrase, "So this I say".  This is clearly a connector to what was just stated.  The Bible was written to be obeyed, not just learned, not just studied.  James tells us that we are not to be hearers only but doers of the word.

I want you to notice, as we go forward here, not only in verse 17 but in verse 23, the emphasis on the mind, on thinking.  That is where the battle begins.  We see an emphasis on the mind in verse 17.  We will see an emphasis on understanding in verse 18 and then ignorance in verse 18.  In verse 20 we're going to encounter the concept of having learned Christ.  Let's start with thinking.  Repentance is a change of mind. This verse says we should be transformed.  Transformed, how?  By resolution?  By hard work?  No, by the renewing of your mind.  The whole process starts with your thinking.  When the Scripture uses the term of mind, we fall into the trap of presuming that it means the brain.  No.  The term mind is a far broader concept.  It is the whole process of thinking.  It is interesting how the ancient writers understood that.  They speak about action or decisions of the bowels.  We say today, from the gut.  The point is, your nervous system is not just the brain, it goes through your whole body.  The concept of the mind is much broader than just the brain. 

When someone trusts Christ, his entire outlook changes.  His values, his goals, his entire worldview.  Notice what happens if he doesn't have Christ as Paul says in verse 18.  In verse 17 Paul says, "don't walk like the Gentiles walk", and in verse 18 he says:

"Having their understanding darkened".  Does that does describe our culture or what?  We have become an entire culture that has lost perception of moral values.  We are taught in the university that any values are OK.  Our schools have developed what is called "value relativism".  There is a denial that truth exists, or that there is an absolute right and wrong.  They teach that a certain truth may be good for you but a different truth is good for someone else.  The result is situational ethics which is broadly taught in our universities.

If you want an interesting book to read you should read Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind.  He is speaking as an educator with thirty years of experience at the University of Chicago.  He states that the American educational system is bankrupt.  And the reason for that, is value relativism.  The universities teach our students that there is no absolute truth.  The non-obvious consequence of that is: then, if that's true, that history has no relevance to us.  If there is no truth, that means we can't learn anything from history.  We may look at it out of curiosity, but it does not have any foundational relevance to our lives that classical education used to have.  The Western civilization suddenly becomes meaningless.

In the attempts by universities to try to open people's minds, they have actually closed them.  The average person today that graduates from our schools, at whatever level, is educationally bankrupt.  That is one of the most frightening things about today's society.  Students coming out of our schools don't have a clue, compared to education of several decades ago.  And it is primarily because of the absence of values, the absence of absolutes, not just right and wrong, but true and false.  Things actually are true or false, contrary to higher education teaching.

One question that Bible scholars often ask, or are asked, is "Is the United States in Biblical prophecy?  " Most Biblical scholars agree that the answer to this question is no, we're not.  But just to make a point, if you're asked that question, you could answer that "yes it is, it is in Isaiah 5".  There is a list of six woes described in Isaiah 5 which most assuredly applied to Israel but could just as well be applied to the United States.  Starting with Isaiah 5:8, which starts a section entitled by the editors: "Woes of the wicked".

  1. Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field, Until there is no more room... --Isaiah 5:8
    This whole idea of materialism, growing, growing, growing is portrayed there.  As a land developer who develops subdivisions which add house to house, I take offense at the words, but I know what Isaiah means.
  2. Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink, who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them!  Their banquets are accompanied by lyre and harp, by tambourine and flute, and by wine; but they do not pay attention to the deeds of the LORD, Nor do they consider the work of His hands.  --Isaiah 5:11
    Here's a description of the hedonistic lifestyle, which of course is most prevalent in the American society.  It is this aspect of Western civilization that most angers Muslims, perhaps with reason.
  3. Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood, And sin as if with cart ropes... --Isaiah 5:18
    What this is saying here is, not only are they sinning but they are parading their sin.  Whenever you see a homosexual parade, think of Isaiah 5:18.
  4. Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
  5. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and clever in their own sight!
  6. Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink, who justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away the rights of the ones who are in the right!   --Isaiah 5:20-23
    Boy, does that describe, not the exception, but the view held by the majority in our culture today.  In addition to thinking opposite of God's truth, having perverse values, they bribe judges, and so on.

If you ask the average person, "What is the biggest problem today in our culture, is it ignorance or apathy?"   They'll say, "I don't know and I don't care."  Our world has a lot of knowledge but not much wisdom.  Thoreau says "We have improved means to unimproved ends."

An unsaved person's thinking is futile, as Paul said in verse 17.  He does not know God, he cannot understand the world around him, he cannot understand himself.  Verse 18 speaks of the hardness of the heart.  The heart of a human is dulled by sin, as if by an anesthetic.  Sin has a hardening, deadening, and blinding effect on people.  We talked about this in an earlier lesson, about how when we first sin, we feel guilty, but after a time or two more, we don't even feel guilty anymore.  And Paul goes on to talk about this in verse 19.

This is a summary of a passage that you should be familiar with.  As a Christian you need to have a command of Romans Chapter 1 starting with about verse 18.  This is the biblical rebuttal or answer to the question, "What about the pagans?"   "What about the savages in Africa who have never heard of Jesus?"  That is the cop-out that many people use against the Christian claim that the acceptance of Jesus is the only way to heaven.

When you read about these pagan cultures where they carve their idols, you should remember that in our culture we have created the most insulting idol of all.  Not idols of wood and stone, but we have attributed creation, this universe in all its glory, to nothingness.  Society has argued that it isn't even necessary to have a god to have created all of this, that it's the result of an accident.  Not only is there not a God, but he isn't even necessary.  I think God must find that the most insulting position of all.  Attributing God's glory and his creation to some other God is bad enough, but saying that it isn't even necessary that there be a god to have created this seems to me to be the ultimate put-down from God's perspective.

If you're ever in a group and someone proudly proclaims that he is an agnostic, just be aware.  That person is claiming to be a believer along the lines of the Greek group called the Agnostics.  The Latin equivalent for that word leads to the English word ignoramus.  So that person is claiming to be an ignoramus, which is probably correct.  It doesn't have quite the social impact to be known as an ignoramus as to be an agnostic, but it is the same.

The point of this is that the unsaved have their understanding darkened.  One commentator used the phrase that I have used in this class before:  "A corpse cannot overhear a conversation in the funeral parlor."  That sort of gets the idea across.  Satan has blinded the minds of the unsaved.  Second Corinthians Chapter 4 reminded us of that.

If you are not a Christian, God is not asking you to live your life according to the mandates of Paul's epistle.  If anyone here this morning is not a Christian, everything we have been talking about does not apply you, just relax, you're on the sidelines.  Dead man cannot walk, no matter how much they are urged to.  An Army Sergeant does not go out to the graveyard and give the command, "Atten-HUT, forward MARCH!".  He's not going to get much of a response there, is he?

Next week:

...we will pick up at verse 20 of Chapter 4 where Paul will continue to describe how we should live in a manner worthy of our calling as Christians.  He will continue to give us ways to measure or judge our maturity.