Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:19a “Who being past feeling. . .”
“There are no colors in human language dark enough wherewith to describe this state” (Rudder, in B.I.). “Being past feeling” is a participle which means to cease feeling pain, and here refers to the deadness which results when a heart ceases to respond to the stimuli of conscience (Ellicott).
The surest safeguard against moral decline is a watchful, sensitive conscience performing its God-intended duty. When inner restraint fails, outer controls serve little purpose. Unfortunately, it is possible to decimate the rightful role of one’s conscience, and thus to become “past feeling.” Over a period of time, one can decide conscience is merely a compilation of old habits and traditions, and come to believe “there is no such thing as an inward monitor placed there by God” (Lloyd-Jones). The Bible is demeaned, mores of decency are scorned, the uplifting customs of a society are deemed archaic and unnecessary, all outward restraints and influences for good are discarded. This process goes on and on until finally the cries of conscience are squelched to the point of being choked out of existence. The final result is moral insensibility, an insensitivity to all things good, a hardness “neither ministry, nor misery, nor miracle, nor mercy could possibly mollify. . . .At length they become like the smith’s dog, whom neither the hammers above him nor the sparks of fire falling round about him can awake” (Trapp).
We saw this trait portrayed en masse recently in our own capital. On one of the darkest days in American history, thousands of homosexuals marched, demanding recognition and acceptance. In what may have been the foulest stench ever to ascend to Heaven from any spot on North America, we saw people openly displaying what it means to be “past feeling.”
The intent of this “being past feeling” is to describe such events, but it also characterizes all who hear the Gospel repeatedly and yet remain in lostness. To reject again and again the simple, pure, and beautiful story of Jesus requires extraordinary hardness. Dr. Lichfield tried to win a criminal on death row who had oft heard the Gospel, but the convict abruptly ended the conversation, saying, “I can not feel, and I will not pray.” The same could be said by many moral, upstanding lost people in our neighborhoods.
Thank God for the agony of soul you feel each time you sin. Be grateful for your sensitivity to conscience. It is evidence of spiritual life.
Eph. 4:19b “. . .have given themselves over. . .”
Once the heart becomes “past feeling,” the perverted will becomes a traitor which totally betrays its own person to treachery. The will says “yes” to every temptation, thereby destroying self. In our text sinners are described as giving “themselves over” unto evil. In Romans (1:24,26,28) it is God who gives them up to sin. This presents two sides of the same coin. Confirmation in sin is a guilty choice of man, and a judicial act of God.
To petrify self in evil is a fate worse than cancer, AIDS, or any other earthly calamity. Yet wilful sinners insist on persisting in wrong till confirmed in it by God. “Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and let the one who is filthy, still be filthy” (RV 22:11). Frozen, crystallized, calcified in sin by choice and by divine fiat. Nothing worse can be imagined.
Eph. 4:19c “. . .unto lasciviousness,. . .”
The root idea of “lasciviousness” is not fleshly impurity, but rebellion against restraints. A lascivious person acknowledges no limits, seeks to cast them all off, and flaunt sin. He or she is shameless. Modesty is lost, decency forgotten. One does not care how much his actions shock others. It is pictured in John Lennon’s words about sexual intimacy, “Why can’t we do it in the road?” Such lack of shame characterizes animal behavior. Even demons have enough decency to try to hide their true nature. They camouflage and cloak themselves, but wanton people flaunt their evil.
There are phases and places in history where sin comes to the fore and totally engulfs a society–before the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, Ancient Greece, Rome under the Caesars. Even in Judah, Jeremiah the weeping prophet proclaimed the sins of his people and expressed regret, “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush” (JR 6:15). It is good Jeremiah was there to weep. No one else was crying, and someone needed to.
As long as people can blush, feel shame, and sense modesty, there is hope. These safeguard against moral collapse, and have ever been a hallmark of genuine Christianity. In the Roman coliseum, our women worried more about modesty than life. As wild beasts tore at their bodies, rather than fend off the animals, they tried to keep tatters of their garments over their bodies. Sadly, the blush of modesty is becoming rarer in our culture.
Eph. 4:19d “. . .to work. . .”
In its noun form, the verb translated “to work” referred to one’s occupation or trade. Our text does not refer to people who yield to temptation from time to time, but to those who are “making a business of filth” (Blackwood). To them, sin is not something incidental or on the side, but the main thing. They pursue evil with the zeal of an occupation. They work at sin with all their might, clutching it with the left hand, holding it with the right, loving it, kissing it, rolling it under the tongue as a sweet morsel. They yearn to increase their skills in sin, and learn every aspect of it, as if they were born to sin–it becomes their mission, their focus in life.
Eph. 4:19e “. . .all uncleanness. . .”
They seek to master “all uncleanness,” every sin, including deeds too atrocious and monstrous to describe. Some in the most militant homosexual community even dare to say the sexual abuse of children can actually be good, for it might help a child learn his or her true sexual orientation. People of such bent have already taken up residence in the suburbs of Hell.
Eph. 4:19f “. . .with greediness.”
Here is the mindset of the wanton sinner, the motivation for everything he does. “With greediness”–all is focused on self; no fear of God, no regard for others, no concern for society. With total scorn for the rights of others, they care not who they hurt or whose innocence they besmirch.
The New English Bible translates the last part of our text well, “They stop at nothing to satisfy their foul desire.” “Stop at nothing!” How true. Though smitten with blindness by the angels, the men of Sodom continued to seek Lot’s door (GN 19:11). In Revelation 9 the wrath of God is depicted as falling on mankind. Though one-third of humanity is killed by fire, smoke, and brimstone, “the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not” (RV 9:20). I am reminded of an AIDS patient my friend saw dying on television. Barely able to talk, the sick one whispered, “I hope they find a cure soon, so we can have our lovers back.” Even Shakespeare realized men “stop at nothing” to have their fill. He wrote of people who seek “the bubble reputation, even in the cannon’s mouth.”
How do people plummet to this depth in life? By rejecting God. When self is elevated to number one, even God is relegated to a secondary position. If sinners changed their thinking about God, they would have to surrender to Him, and this would result in a change of thinking about life-styles. Lost people know one thing for sure–where God lives He rules–and this they do not want. Rather than change behavior, they choose not to know God. The Bible makes it very clear why people are lost. “Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (JN 3:19).
Admittedly, not all lost people go as far in immorality as our verse depicts. God’s common grace allows social order to exist. Culture can be modified by moral consensus. Our nation may not be as bad as pictured by Paul here, but his words depict the direction in which it is pointing. The lost may not agree with certain acts being committed, but often see no terrible wrong in them. Unbelievers tend to “live and let live,” thereby creating a comfortable environment in which unspeakable evils are spawned.
What then must believers do? It is not enough to speak against sin. Pray for the world and try to win it for Jesus. Shun its values, but win its constituents. Reject their words, but project to them God’s Word. Denounce wrong, but pronounce right. Even to the most notorious sinner, proclaim cleansing as a possibility. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 J 1:7).
Spurgeon tells of a man whose face was encased in a mask of iron and who was jailed for years in Paris’ infamous Bastille Prison. He was conjectured to be the twin brother of King Louis XIV, who committed this dastardly deed because he feared his look-alike would someday try to steal the throne. Dear listener, your flesh and spirit are twins, conceived in the same womb at the same time. To reach wantonness in evil, the jealous flesh, basest of the twins, must gain ascendancy, encase the royal spirit in an iron mask, and bury it deep in the essence. Friend, you may have masked your spirit, denied it, and forgotten it, but it exists. By grace, cast flesh off the throne, receive Jesus, and let God rule you through your spirit.