The Futility of Their Thinking- Ephesians 4:17-19

In this passage, Paul is instructing the believers in the church in Ephesus on how they are to conduct themselves as believers, as those who call themselves God’s friends. He does so because some in the church were calling themselves God’s friends while acting in a way which was no different from God’s enemies. He begins this admonition by describing for his hearers how God’s enemies behave, in order for them to check their own lives against this and see if they are in fact God’s friends who are acting more like His enemies. He begins, in verse 17, by identifying exactly who his intended audience is here, exactly who he is talking to. The “you” here refers to the church, to those who profess to be believers in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Paul here not only tells them something , but “insists” on it. The word insists here is the Greek martureo, to “bear witness”. Paul “insists” here not primarily in his speaking, but in his living. He is leading by example here, his lifestyle is a demonstration to them of how one who is a friend of God is to conduct themselves, and he calls on them to live as he does. He then tells them they must “no longer live as the Gentiles do”. By using the phrase no longer here, Paul tells us that there were some among the believers who were currently living in the way he is about to describe, and he commands them here to cease and desist from doing so any longer. By “Gentiles” here, Paul makes reference to the unsaved world around the believers, that some were professing to be believers in Christ as Lord, but their own conduct contradicted this statement. He then tells them (and us) the primary reason why they were acting as the Gentiles do, due to the “futility of their thinking”. The Greek word “futility” here is matiaos, a word borrowed from the Hebrew language, literally meaning “vain”. This word vain contains within it two different connotations, it can mean futile, but can also mean proud. We see, then, why Paul chooses this particular word, because his basic idea is that proud thinking is futile thinking. The fundamental problem here, then, is in one’s “thinking”, which Paul refers to as proud. This proud thinking is thinking like those who do not know Christ, thinking which basically concludes that “I” will decide what is true or not, what is right or wrong, rather than submit to what God says is true or false, right or wrong. This proud thinking is futile, then, because it results in a “darkened understanding” (verse 18). The Greek word translated understanding here is dianoia, literally to “think through”. When we “think through” something, we arrive at an “understanding” of it, we arrive at our conclusion of what it “means”. This understanding is darkened here, meaning it is cut off from the light, from the God who is light. What this all means is that those who engage in “futile thinking” see everything wrongly, things mean what they say they mean rather than what God says they mean, the ultimate “truth” of all that occurs in their lives is defined and determined by themselves, and not by God. Because of this, they live their lives “separated from the life of God”. Because of thinking that has not been transformed, because of minds that have not been renewed by the word of God, because of ways of thinking which are derived from the world rather that the Word, they are friends of God who act like His enemies, who live lives characterized by darkness, living as separated from God, as though He may be “God”, but not their God, for they determine what is true, what the ultimate meaning of everything is. This is why our enemy has mounted such an assault upon the Word of God, because Paul tells us here that those among believers who are not in the Word (and the Word is not in them), will still think like the world does, and act as enemies of God even though they claim to be His friends. If our enemy can get us to think that the Scripture is somehow not the Word of God, that it is somehow insufficient, or contains errors and is not trustworthy, he can get us to neglect spending time studying and meditating on the Word. This will ensure that our minds will not be renewed, and we will live like the Gentiles do as a result. Many in the church had fallen into this very snare of the devil, and Paul here warns them (and us) that any who have done so must repent, must be transformed by the renewing of their minds (through the Word), so that they may be delivered from their “futile” thinking, and live lives no longer characterized by darkness, no longer separated from the life of God, no longer God’s friends who live like His enemies.

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