February 13, 2019 • Life for Leaders
Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
Years ago, when I was a college pastor, a young woman I’ll call Callie challenged my teaching that the Christian life leads to the most joy. “I look at all the things I’m not supposed to do,” Callie began, “and then I look at my non-Christian friends. They party all the time. They get to have sex before marriage. They do all sorts of crazy things. It seems to me that they’re really having all the fun. I’m not sure the Christian life is all you’re claiming it to be.” Though I didn’t agree with her point, I did appreciate Callie’s honesty. She gave expression to something many of us have secretly thought. It may seem at times that those who are not limited by Christian values get to have all the fun.
For a while they may be having the most fun, if you want to call it that. But, Ephesians 4:19 allows us to look beneath the apparently happy surface. Excessive sensuality, while it appears to augment our feelings of happiness, actually has the opposite effect over time.
Ephesians 4:19 describes the Gentiles in terms reminiscent of Callie’s objection: “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.” It’s likely that the last phrase, “and they are full of greed,” refers in this context to an insatiable desire for more impure sensual pleasures. Notice carefully the first phrase of the sentence, “Having lost all sensitivity.” Here, Paul uses the perfect participle of a rare verb, apalgeo, which appears only here in the Greek New Testament. It conveys not an excess of feeling but rather a loss of feeling. The ESV translates this phrase as “They have become callous.” The Message prefers “Feeling no pain,” which is close to the literal meaning of apalgeo.
However one translates this Greek verb, it reveals the association of excess sensuality with a lack of feeling, not with more feeling. When we continue to indulge in immoral sensual actions, we end up dulling our feelings, not enhancing them. We become callous to the pain that our sinful actions cause to others. And, in our desire for more “fun,” we dive deeper into the pool of hedonistic behavior. Yet our happiness is fleeting, and feelings of true joy cannot fill our hardened hearts. Moreover, our choice to pursue momentary pleasures often does damage to our souls, leaving us both empty and wounded.
Ephesians 4:19 focuses on the negative results of carnal excess. It assumes what is not stated here, namely, that experiencing the life of God and living according to his wisdom is not only right but also the way of true joy.
Something to Think About:
Have you ever wondered to yourself about whether non-Christian folk have more fun?
Have you ever experienced, in yourself or someone else, the connection between excess sensuality and a lack of feeling?
Have there been times in your life when living as a Christian was not only joyful, but actually quite fun? What made those times so delightful?
Something to Do:
What are some of the things in life that you greatly enjoy and that are fully consistent with God’s intentions for human life? Make a plan to do one of these things in the next couple of weeks. If possible, invite others to join you. Take delight in the goodness God has infused in this life.
Gracious God, I do not want to lose all sensitivity. I do not want to become someone who must indulge in more impurity in order to feel something. I do not want to lose the pain that comes with sin. Forgive me, Lord, when I allow my heart to become hardened, when I minimize the impact of sin in my life.
Help me, I pray, to be fully sensitive, aware, and tenderhearted. May I delight in all of the good you give to me. May I live each day with joy inspired by your Spirit. Amen.
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
I have to challenge your statement, “…[Eph 4:19] assumes what is not stated here, namely, that experiencing the life of God and living according to his wisdom is not only right but also the way of true joy.”
Teachings that state opinion like this are dangerous. We need to understand that scripture makes no assumptions, and therefore we should never ‘assume’ it is stating something it is not. Your statement leads to the misunderstanding that ‘if we are obedient, then life will be happy and joyful’. We only need to look at the life of Job to realize this is not always true. Even though at times God gives Grace and Blessings to those who are obedient, he also gives that same Grace and Blessing (at times) to those who are not. We cannot “assume” a promise here, ie, if we live according to his wisdom, then life will be joyful. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.
I have been a follower of Christ, a Christian, for most of my life and even though I’ve failed Him at times, I have lived close to Him in obedience. But my life has been hard, painful, and challenging for over 25 years….My reward is coming, I believe, but it certainly has been true for me that life here on earth has not been “better” or joyful for being obedient to Him.
I may have missed it, but I don’t see any scripture that promises ‘joy’ in this life to those who are obedient and live according to his wisdom…it’s just not there.
My intent here is to not be confrontational, but to be true to God’s word.
Sincerely, in Him.